“Mark was devoted to his children and his dogs,” said brother Pat Neely, best-selling author and The Food Network personality. ”He wanted to run the restaurant, but not at the expense of his children. They were always there with him. He even chose the location so they could be with him.”
After 20 years of running the Neely’s on Mt. Moriah, Jeffrey Mark Neely, 55, passed suddenly at his home Sunday night.
“I live in Georgia now, and when I got the news, I started immediately for home,” said Pat. “I had six hours to reminisce on so many cherished memories and just reflect on how blessed our family is to be so close-knit.
“Mark had heart problems, but he was just telling me about how great he felt. He was exercising, and he felt healthy. We just assume that he must have had a massive heart attack that took him from us just that quick.”
Jim Neely of Interstate Barbeque was the uncle to the Neely children. They learned the business working in his restaurant and later opened four locations of their own.
“We lost our father very early,” said Pat. “My mother was only 39. Dad was 41. People always thought Jim Neely was our father. That was because he, as my Dad’s brother, filled in the void and became like a father to us. That’s what we are going to do for Mark’s children. We will be there for them to provide the love and guidance they need.”
Parents of the Neely children were William and Lorene. Mark was the fourth child of six. They all graduated from Melrose High School.
Left to mourn Mark’s passing are four brothers: Gaelen and Chris Neely, both of Memphis, and Pat and William (called Tony), both of Atlanta. They have one sister, Jacqueline.
Mark left two daughters: Lauren and Leah, and one son, David.
“David is only eight years old. Of course, the children are devastated at the passing of their father, but David is so young. We will be there for him just like our Uncle Jim was there for us.”
The Neely family is just trying to “process Mark’s passing,” said Pat.
“People ask me what I feel my greatest achievement is,” he said. “It’s not the cook books, or the television show. It’s not even the fame. I enjoy my home and the acreage in Georgia, but my greatest achievement is family and the close relationship we have enjoyed over the years.
“We are just so appreciative of all the love and expressions of sympathy we’ve received during this very difficult time. Messages on social media, all the calls, especially from our Memphis family, we really appreciate the love. It is helping us get through this.”
Funeral services are scheduled for Friday, March 16, 2 p.m., at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, 70 N. Bellevue Blvd.