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REMEMBERING NEIL MACNEIL
Dick Johnson submitted the following item about Neil MacNeil. -EditorNeil MacNeil, author of "The President's Medal" on Presidential Inaugural Medals died last week (June 7, 2008) at his home in Bethesda, MD. The numismatic field was indeed fortunate to have had such a famed author become interested in a numismatic specialty and write about it.
Neil was on the staff of Time magazine in the Washington office. His specialty was the U.S. Congress and he held the title of Chief Congressional Correspondent for Time. He was also a longtime panelist on the TV program "Washington Week In Review." An inveterate book buyer, he built the largest private collection on the U.S. Congress.
He was a close friend of Joe Levine who aided his numismatic interest of U.S. Presidential inaugural medals. Once Neil became interested in inaugural medals he wrote the book in his basement library after midnight, not to conflict with his many other duties. He was a professional writer, and had long since learned the secret every writer should have emblazoned on a sign above his computer:
Libraries and librarians exist to furnish writers with information!
Neil was a master at obtaining hidden material, often in an obscure library and having some librarian cheerfully dig out and furnish this data to him. Of course it helped if they knew we was on the staff of Time. He knew how to ask the right questions and what areas to explore. But it was this Scotsman's cheerful attitude that immediately befriended everyone. He did have a strong personality and he generally got what he wanted, be it a medal or modicum of buried information.
I acquiesced to Neil's requests many times, furnishing data on Medallic Art Company-made inaugural medals to him. Our paths crossed often. He once invited me to lunch with him in Washington. His office at Time magazine was filled with boxes of his just-published book on Everett Dirksen. I asked if he had taken his royalties in copies of the book. "No," he said. "these are to give to people who might have an interest in the Illinois Senator."
We strolled over to a famous Washington hotel dining room. This was during the Nixon inquisition, and Neil said to me, "That's John Dean seated at that table." He proceeded to point out other dignitaries in the room. "Well I guess they have to eat lunch somewhere" I said blandly.
Neil stopped off to visit us at Medallic Art Company in Danbury one Thursday. He was on his way to Boston to interview Tip O'Neil. The article was the cover story to appear in next week's issue of Time, and his deadline was Saturday morning. I asked him if he wasn't cutting his time rather close.
That wasn't all. After he interviewed Tip O'Neil, he left all his notes in O'Neil's office. He realized what he had done on his drive from Boston, telephoned back to Boston and had his notes messengered to Washington DC where he showed up Friday night and wrote the article for his Saturday AM deadline.
I read the article Monday and it was flawless. That's the kind of writer Neil was!
I will miss you, Neil, and all our conversations.
To read the New York Times obituary of MacNeil, see: Neil MacNeil, Among First of TV Reporters on Congress, Dies at 85 (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/12/us/12macneil.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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