A lifetime of caring remembered at memorial service

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

Neal Colby

KANSAS CITY — Neal Daniel Colby, 77, died at home Dec. 27. He had served many years as Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, retiring in 2005 as Director of Social Concerns. He is survived by his wife, Mary Bernice (Bernie), sons Shawn (Alena), Brian (Soodie), and Kevin, two grandchildren, Sofia and Danny, his sisters, Carol Papin and Joan Williams and nieces and nephews.

A Celebration of Neal’s Life service at Visitation Parish’s Tighe Hall Jan. 4 drew several hundred family members, friends and admirers. There was much laughter, hugs and chatter as people greeted Bernie and shared their memories of Neal.

He was born in Milwaukee Jan. 7, 1941 to Neal Daniel and Mary Charlotte (Allen) Colby. He graduated from St. Benedict’s College, now Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, and went on to the University of Kansas for an advanced degree in social welfare. Fresh out of KU’s social welfare program, Colby joined Catholic Charities in 1965. Named associate director of Catholic Charities in 1977, he succeeded Rashey Moten as executive director in 1981 and served in that capacity until he was named Director of Social Concerns.

His early work in facilitating adoptions, counseling troubled youth and refugee resettlement began his legacy, which later included affordable housing for the poor, elderly and disabled; increased awareness of and attention to the emerging AIDS crisis and the establishment of SAVE Home, the first hospice house in Missouri dedicated to serving those with HIV/AIDS. He was instrumental in the collaborative effort establishing the Missouri Adoption and Foster Care Coalition and for pressing for state laws for open adoptions and improved health care for the medically underserved, creating a system allowing the elderly to age in place with people and in places they love. In sum, Neal lived his life for others, most of whom he never met, and the world is a better place because of him. Neal Colby had a million ideas to share and promote and activate. As his son Shawn said, “My father was blessed to not have a job but a calling: to make the world a better place. And many ideas of how to do it!”

He loved his family, his dogs, sailing, hunting, golf and coaching his sons in sports. Shawn shared his memories of their dad coaching soccer wearing a cowboy hat and boots, cigarette dangling, and perusing a book he pulled from a pocket, entitled “What is Soccer?”

Brian Colby said, “We don’t get a chance to decide when we’re born or when we die, but we can decide what we’re going to do with our lives! My father was very blessed to walk with great people. My mother was the light of his life, his rock. She gave him unconditional love.”

Kevin shared glimpses of his childhood with two brothers that had the crowd laughing.

Several non-family members also spoke, including Chris Ice, CEO of Catholic Charities. He said, “I wish I’d met Neal. He was an awesome man. He left a legacy here in Kansas City and in the state of Missouri. There are people who live a life and die, and there are people who live a life and leave a legacy. I stand on the shoulders of a giant.”

His long-time secretary, Phyliss Bowen, later recalled that because she could take shorthand, she accompanied Neal on many trips to St. Joseph, Jefferson City and places in between with Neal talking and she taking shorthand notes all the way. “He was very serious about his ideas,” she said. “He could go anywhere and stay on top of what he was thinking because I could get his ideas down in shorthand.”

Neal’s sons concluded the evening with a toast: To all the good times in the past, to all the good times in the future and to Bernie, the love of his life!

He has gone now, but his accomplishments and legacy live on. Neal Colby is sharing his ideas for a better world in a better world. Farewell Neal!


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October 26, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph