Neal Gunn, CFE, passed away on December 20 following a two-year battle with cancer. He was 74.
“Yesterday was a very difficult day for me,” said Mike McGee, CFE, Gunn’s friend of 62 years since both grew up in Monroe, Louisiana. “There is a sense of emptiness that I don’t have that guy to call for some crazy conversation. We shared so many things that I can’t even fathom, and it is certainly going to be different.”
Gunn grew up in Monroe (“712 Plum Street,” said McGee) and excelled at sports, most notably football. He was offered some 36 college scholarships to play and was close to accepting one from the University of Arkansas before the governor of Louisiana made a personal visit to see Gunn. “He came to Neal’s house and said, ‘You’re a good Louisiana boy, you don’t need to be going to Arkansas,'” McGee said. “When the governor comes to your house and knocks on your front door … you need to go to the state university.” Gunn did just that and played and graduated from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
Gunn got his start in the industry with the new hometown Monroe Civic Center. He was working for Sears, Roebuck and Company in the credit department when he applied for and became the controller of the new venue in September 1967. The position was the first in a career that would span 42 years and include stops at the Lakeland (FL) Civic Center, Superdome, Astrodome, and Ticketmaster.
Many of those positions were intertwined with his good friend Mike McGee. “I worked at a TV station in Monroe when Neal was hired at the civic center,” McGee said. “I would often go to the venue to cover their events and do film clips. They needed a marketing and publicity person so I talked to Neal, who had become the director. I went to work there on December 3, 1970.”
Gunn left Monroe to manage the Lakeland Civic Center and shortly thereafter brought McGee in to be his assistant director. The inseparable friends would eventually land together in Houston where Gunn worked at the Astrodome while McGee was at The Summit arena. The two co-promoted some events outside of the market, leading to the formation of Facility Management Marketing, which later became Leisure Management International.
Things came full circle later on when McGee joined Ticketmaster to oversee North American business operations, where he was rejoined with Gunn. “Neal became an employee reporting to me,” McGee said. “It all worked out and we got along fine. We never got angry or upset with the other … ever.”
Gunn most recently served as president and owner of Neal Gunn Enterprises in Houston, a company that specialized in providing business solutions, marketing, sponsorship sales, as well as promoting and operation of events and activities. Through it all, McGee remained in close contact with his dear friend.
“Neal went through all of the treatments after he was diagnosed with lung cancer a little over two years ago,” McGee said. “He was pronounced cancer-free about a year ago, but then started having trouble getting his stamina to return. His lungs were having trouble functioning again and then his heart. He went to the hospital about four months ago and was stabilized. About two or three weeks ago he was readmitted and placed in ICU and finally life support.”
McGee said that Gunn will be remembered in the industry as someone who was very outgoing and gregarious.
“People liked Neal because he expressed an interest in them,” McGee said. “He had a bunch of tomfoolery with him and loved to play practical jokes, which I think brought people closer to him. Everybody has their Neal story and what Neal meant to them. He was a mentor to so many and had time to give advice. I believe he will be remembered as someone engaged and passionate about what he did and who really loved people. He generously invested his time and his heart in people and their circumstances. There was no barrier or precursor to knowing Neal whether you were in the highest office or on the street asking for a quarter. You can’t spend over 50 years in this industry or be successful without touching people’s lives.”
While McGee said that he was as reasonably prepared as possible for his close friend’s passing, there is still great sadness.
“Neal and I were friends for 62 years and in business for 47 years,” he said. “I won’t experience that again.”
This story will be updated with information regarding services for Neal Gunn.