The Way We Were: Neill Wade McArthur, Jr.

The Way We Were: Neill Wade McArthur, Jr.
Neill and Raya McArthur

Neill McArthur has done some serious traveling in his lifetime. He mentioned 20 countries he has visited and that didn’t include visiting the Russian Federation twice, where he had problems with his passport and his hotel reservations were cancelled because the King of Saudi Arabia reserved the entire hotel and displaced the other hotel guests. 

Neill McArthur, Lakeshore Junior High
Neill McArthur, Lakeshore Junior High

Recounting that event, when McArthur was accused of being a spy, he said, in his droll manner, that he wished he’d had the American Embassy on speed dial. Now, more tamely, he travels back and forth from Ortega Forest, where he has lived since 1978, to his mountain house in North Carolina.

McArthur’s youth was spent in Lakeshore, Riverside, Ortega and Venetia and he attended Ortega Elementary School and Lakeshore Junior High. While he and his parents lived on McGirtt Boulevard, McArthur and pals Chuckie Rogers, Jim Jackson and Bill Sumner played in the Ortega woods and on Mr. Boutwell’s pier. They pretended it was a pirate ship or a fort for Davy Crockett. In the summer they and another pal, Hank Wilson (now also a local attorney) played baseball, which was organized by the city.

The elder McArthurs had completed building their house on Venetia Boulevard when Hurricane Dora made her appearance in September 1964. “The back yard wasn’t that big, and the water was close. My dad hammered a stick into the ground as a measuring device,” recalled McArthur. “Around 11 o’clock he woke me up and told me to go to my grandmother Hattie Myers’ house on Iroquois. I took the cat, Claude, and headed out but the road was flooded, and the car stalled so I had to trudge back home carrying my suitcase and that fat, heavy cat during a hurricane. We stayed until daylight then went to Francis L’Engle’s house and stayed for a day until we could get to grandmother’s.”

Neill McArthur and his mother, Frances, circa 1969
Neill McArthur and his mother, Frances, circa 1969

Although he attended Bolles for two years, McArthur graduated from Robert E. Lee High School. He remarked, “I must have done something to tick my parents off to send me to Bolles. It was a military school then. I begged them on hands and knees and they finally let me go to Lee.”

McArthur’s fraternal grandmother was elderly – the family had arrived in Jacksonville in 1899. She lived on St. Johns Avenue so he stayed with her frequently and could walk the few blocks to school or scoot over there in his emerald green Valiant. McArthur said his car was “ugly as sin but I could fit six people in it.” McArthur has fond memories of cruising over to Penny Burgers on St. Johns Avenue, where RiverVue Apartments are now, after Hi-Y meetings to “scarf down gut bombs and flirt with the Y-Teen girls.” That was THE place for Lee High kids to see and be seen at the time. He remembers the A&P Grocery was located where Ray Ware Hardware is presently. 

McArthur’s musical tastes go back to ‘50s and ‘60s music or “more contemporary music,  like Billy Joel,” although he also enjoys soundtracks from Les Miserable, Hair, RENT and Wicked, which he saw in London. He recalled fun concerts at what was then the Jacksonville Civic Auditorium including one with Peter, Paul and Mary. 

A big Gator fan, McArthur recalled traveling to Gainesville for an exciting game when he was a senior at Robert E. Lee High School. He and a date watched Steve Spurrier and the Gators trounce FSU 30 to 17. 

People dressed up for football games in 1965, he said, noting he wore a suit, and his date wore a new Ladybug wool suit she had purchased at Rosenblum’s downtown and a yellow chrysanthemum corsage “about the size of a dinner plate” which he had presented to her. Unfortunately, November was hot that year and an exuberant fan dumped beer all over his date. When she got home reeking of hot beer her mother accused her of drinking and almost didn’t let her go out with him again. However, after lengthy explanations, she relented, and this young lady accompanied him to the Center Theater in downtown Jacksonville in his Valiant four or five weekends in a row to watch the first James Bond movie, “Goldfinger.” 

After graduating from Lee High School in 1965, McArthur attended Emory at Oxford. “I started as Pre-Med – until I met chemistry. God dealt me another hand that did not include med school. When I got to University of Florida, I decided to change to psychology, but while waiting to meet with the counselor, I went over to the bookstore and looked at books and realized statistics was a pre-requisite. I ascertained that those tiny Greek letters did not indicate a fraternity guide, so I didn’t want to get involved in that. I asked, ‘Where is the Political Science Department?’ But then, in 1969, my senior year, I had an epiphany. What will I do? Teach? I don’t have the patience. Go to law school? Okay. So that’s what I did. I passed the bar in 1972 and went to work for Ralph L. Thomas, Esquire doing general practice. That lasted about two months until I was recruited by the Seaboard Coastline Railroad.” 

University of Florida Law School graduation, 1971
University of Florida Law School graduation, 1971

Coincidentally, when his parents sold their Venetia home to the vice president of Seaboard, he jokingly told McArthur to come interview when he finished law school. McArthur also completed a Master’s in Business Administration at University of North Florida.

When a young bachelor living at the Timuquana Village Apartments after law school, McArthur met a lovely nurse, Raya Bugeski. “She was sitting by the pool with a friend, so I went over and introduced myself and asked her out,” he said. “She was pretty, friendly, and a football fan. Our first date was to see University of Florida play SMU at Gainesville.” The McArthurs continued their football tradition after their marriage in 1978 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. They traveled to Dallas, Miami, and other cities to support the Gators.

During his travels with Raya many years later, she surprised him with hotel rooms at the St. Ermin’s Hotel in London, which was the headquarters of MI6, the British Secret Service and where Ian Fleming of 007 fame stayed during World War II. Quite fitting since McArthur was nicknamed “007” in high school.

Neill and Raya McArthur
Neill and Raya McArthur

McArthur was with the railroad for 12½ years, then worked for the Office of General Counsel where he represented governmental agencies of the City of Jacksonville, including JEA and the Port Authority among others. He is proud of a defining moment of his career and remarked that “it is the only significant thing I’ve ever done in my 40 years of practicing law.” In 1992 after “all sorts of research and a 28-page document, we won the Adler vs. Duval County School Board case which determined that students in Duval County could use a brief opening or closing message that was not monitored by school officials.” The proceedings culminated in the Supreme Court, drew a lot of lawyers and the Liberty Council and had significant impact. The purpose of this was to allow students to direct their own graduation, without monitoring or review by school officials, within the preestablished stipulations. McArthur said, “It makes me feel good that I could contribute to something that had a greater impact outside of Jacksonville.” 

McArthur stated that he hasn’t cracked a law book since his retirement although he reads history books – particularly about World War II, adventure stories and even attended a performance of “Oklahoma” while in Highlands, N.C.. His son, Neill Wade McArthur III (Wade), and his wife, the former Scarlett Abrahamson, have two little boys, Neill Wade McArthur IV (Mac) and Fortson Lee McArthur, with baby number three on the way. Following in his dad’s footsteps, Wade works for the General Counsel’s Office in the Office of Public Real Estate. He and his dad share a favorite movie as well. Neill calls it, “the greatest Christmas movie ever made – Die Hard.” 

The McArthurs attended Ortega United Methodist Church, and although Wade and Scarlett no longer live on this side of town the family would meet on Sundays and frequently go out to eat after church.

Neill and Raya McArthur, 2014
Neill and Raya McArthur, 2014

Sadly, McArthur’s beautiful bride passed away on January 24, 2019 from a recurrence of breast cancer, and never got to use her newly renovated kitchen, which had been damaged during Hurricane Irma. McArthur remarked that she was an accomplished woman who was “cheerful, outgoing, a professional registered nurse, a volunteer for Wolfson Hospital Board, the Junior League, the Mayor’s Council on Women and a former EVE runner up.” 

Having lunch at the Goal Post recently, McArthur looked across St. Johns Avenue and felt a pang of nostalgia for the old familiar places of youth that are being replaced by new developments. But looking forward, he will be celebrating a recent birthday at a shared party with his soon to be 4-year-old grandson. Although no longer a season ticketholder, since he doesn’t like to travel to Gainesville or get into the crowds of people, his enthusiasm for his alma mater hasn’t diminished – so what better way to celebrate a birthday than doing so with family, cheering the Gators as they take on the Miami Hurricanes Sept. 24 in their first game of the season.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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