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.


  1. Emma Briggs

    An outstanding eulogy for an outstanding man! You painted his portrait exactly!
    I always thought of him as being genuine! Thank you!

  2. Connie Sloan

    Well written, Steve. I appreciate you sharing your memories and tidbits from Mr. Neff’s autobiography. Speaking of the autobiography, what a wonderful gift to leave his family.
    I remember hearing Leroy Neff speak at the Feast of Tabernacles when I was a kid and then married into the family as you did, soon after in the 1970’s. It was always a pleasure to visit the Neffs in their home and enjoy their loving hospitality.
    Yes, an era has ended but a far more glorious one is coming.

  3. Fred Stevens

    Well said, Steve.

  4. Michelle Bumpers Quant

    Thank you for a wonderful tribute to Mr. & Mrs. Neff. They were my club leaders when I was a student in Big Sandy. As you said, he was a truly humble, converted man. I admired their leadership and enjoyed their personalities. It is very sad to loose such a pillar in the church. He may be gone, but never forgotten.

  5. Frank Fish

    Steve – You have captured Mr. Neff , exactly and the essence of leadership – love and character woven tightly together. Even if Mr Neff disagreed with your proposal or idea, he always would tell you ahead of a meeting, and then remained friendly afterwards, he did not consider you the enemy. I too will not forget times together, the tea and muffin moments, after he retired and they visited Pasadena. Our condolences to his wonderful family.

    1. Frank Fish

      Hello! I have made a typo in my entry above – the phrase should include “not’. It should read “he did not consider you the enemy.” Could the editors please change this? Thank you. Frank

  6. Craig White

    Mr Neff had such a good reputation among the brethren and members and provided many years of faithful service to the Church of God community.

    A number of years ago Mr Neff was very kind to grant me permission to have his thesis on ‘God’s Temple in Prophecy’ typed up and formatted to preserve it for others to enjoy its interesting content. A group of members re-typed the manuscript and he was able to find a someone to provide beautiful colour graphics for it. So, this important and beautiful work is ‘out there’ for all to read and enjoy.

    He had such a good reputation among everyone and am advised that he was loved by the members and respected by the ministry alike. Although we never met, I could tell from his many e-mails that he was and ‘officer and gentleman’ the way a minister should be.

    I hope to be in the first resurrection to meet him on that Glorious Day!

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