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Death of a Level-Five Leader


The world is largely unaware that it lost an important leader this week. 


L. Leroy Neff ended his 90-year race as he deserved—with dignity and surrounded by his devoted children, Larry, Don, and Carol.

I am privileged to know the Neff family because I married into it—sort of. Larry’s wife, Linda, and my wife, Mary, are sisters.

To tell the inspiring tale of Leroy and his wife of over 60 years, Maxine, would take a book. So he wrote an autobiography for his family, which I read with great interest. It is a classic American story of modest beginnings in Oregon, military service, performing as a classically trained cellist, and a life changing call to serve Jesus Christ.

That call led Leroy and Maxine to Southern California where they started a life of service on something less than a shoestring. It wasn’t long before Leroy was ordained a minister and promoted to a series of expanding leadership positions in a fast-growing church organization.

His responsibilities, which ranged from Church Pastor to Treasurer of a worldwide work, took Leroy and Maxine around the globe—several times. They loved to travel almost as much as they loved their family. Leroy was a successful and admired leader.

Why? Was it his flamboyant, charismatic personality? No, Leroy was a quiet leader although he possessed the most beautiful, deep, resonant, and unmistakable speaking voice.  Was it that he was a super-genius, flitting from project to project like a bee on crack? No, Leroy was highly intelligent, but admittedly a plodder who moved in a purposeful straight line until the job was done.

Why? There were, at least, three qualities of character that powered Leroy to continually succeed while many around him blasted off and flamed out.

  1. His integrity, anchored to deep religious convictions, was unimpeachable.
  2. He was utterly faithful, enjoying promotions and suffering setbacks with equanimity.
  3. He was a humble man—period.


I had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with Mr. Neff after they retired to East Texas and especially after Maxine died some years ago and the lonely times began. Mary and I will miss the great family gatherings at Thanksgiving.

My Dad, Melton, and I will also miss our lunches with him. Just three weeks ago Mary, Carol–then his caregiver, and I shared lunch with Mr. Neff in his home. Although frail, his memory was sharp, his mind was clear, and he still managed a wry riposte to my good-natured teases.

When Lester Leroy Neff died late Tuesday night, the world lost a legitimate level five leader. It was a sad, sad day—the end of an era. Yet, when Christ returns, it will be the beginning of another one; a glorious era for an honest, faithful, humble saint.

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