Tribute: Gwyneth Neal – 21.5.20

Gwyneth Neal.

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In normal circumstances the sad passing of Gwyneth Neal would have been marked by many people attending a service in her own church, Oban Parish. Fulsome tributes would have been paid to honour a woman who gave so much to enhance the lives of so many. It is hoped this obituary will be a part of a process of acknowlegment of Gwyneth’s worth.

Gwyneth grew up in Bradford. She was an active member of the Methodist church and supported many youth and community activities. Such ventures led her to meet Tony and in time, they decided to move from Bradford for a more rural and community-based life. They and sons David and Robert subsequently moved to Scotland and made their home in Dunbeg in 1974, where Tony took up a position within social work.

Gwyneth, with her warm and friendly manner, very quickly became a highly respected member of the community who put her heart and soul into village life. She played an active role and worked tirelessly and selflessly to support and befriend local villagers across all ages. In the early days she was involved in a variety of social and family gatherings such as Burns’ suppers and family quiz nights. She was responsible for starting the first playgroup in the village for early years’ children who, along with their parents, benefited from her leadership skills and qualities.

Very much a people person, Gwyneth not only provided quality social and learning experiences for these very young children but also fun, a listening ear and tremendous support for their very often new parents. Great friendships developed here and homebaking was an added bonus.

Together with Tony they were passionate about providing a ‘voice’ for the local community as members and chairpersons of the community council. She was an avid supporter of Dunbeg Primary School serving as a member of Dunbeg School Board for several years while offering very positive and practical input and organising the production of a termly school magazine. Yet again as a team Gwyneth and Tony shared their music and drama skills through producing and directing very professional whole school productions. Former pupils will still have memories of making their acting debuts in the very successful stage production of the musical Oliver.

Gwyneth was a long serving member of the West Highland Housing Association Board joining in 2008. She came with a long history of working in the community and wanting to do things both large and small that would make a difference. Her interests were wide and varied but her heart was in Dunbeg and she along with other members of the community were always battling to ensure that there was a joined up approach to the new housing planned for the village. She was aware that housing could make a huge difference to the local area but she, like all of the community, wanted housing that they could be proud off and would continue to keep Dunbeg as a community. Gwyneth left the board in 2018 but she remained in touch and never failed to let us know when she thought we got things wrong but she did this in a positive way. All she wanted was to make things better.

Gwyneth and Tony had been involved in amateur dramatics and musical theatre in Yorkshire. They were keen to share their love of, and interest in musical theatre, and were instrumental in setting up OOPS [formerly Oban Operatic Society] which later became Spotlight Musical Theatre Group, and continues today. Gwyneth and Tony produced many well-known, and perhaps some not so well known shows, in their capacity as producer and musical director – The Sound of Music; My Fair Lady; Calamity Jane, Oliver, Me and My Girl, Barnum, Sweet Charity … Audiences were entertained and enjoyed, indeed looked forward eagerly to, whatever production was next in line, and by all the amateur performers, and backstage crew, with great enthusiasm, and dedication.

In between times, to help finance the cost of productions, Summer Showtime emerged. On a weekly basis, for several years, Showtime entertained tourists and locals alike.

Gwyneth, following Tony’s death, toyed with the idea of involving and encouraging young people in musical productions, and so the Argyll Youth Theatre was created. Many shows were performed at the Corran Halls, including Fiddler of the Roof and Oliver. AYT was a great success, until sadly, Gwyneth’s health deteriorated.

Gwyneth was an enthusiastic and committed member of Oban MacMillan Cancer Support for nine years. Joining in 2011, she assumed the role of chairperson in 2014. An example of her character was seen in her first fundraising event. The May Garden Party was a wash out and forced indoors as it rained solidly for three hours. She was undaunted. Indeed, her commitment was evident up until October 2019 when she was there helping at the annual collection in Tesco.

House and Home was Gwyneth’s business and the place to drop in a catch her for a quick chat over whatever project she was involved. Her political convictions were expressed through her longstanding commitment to the Liberal Democrat Party. It was a sad time in her life when the shop closed, and there were other sorrows and regrets too. However, her faith undergirded everything she did. She worshipped weekly in Oban Parish Church, where she was an ordained an elder. May she rest in peace.

Reverend Dugald Cameron