A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

4 January 2018 — 1757 mst

Alan McNeil, 1951–2017


Alan McNeil, a friend of 30 plus years, died of a heart attack on 29 December, returning from a grocery buying trip to Kalispell. He was 66. Al is survived by his mother, Cecily, son Henry and daughter Fiona, and brother Bruce.

I learned of Al’s death only today. Needing a respite from outside input, I had not opened my email, which contained the bad news, since Christmas. I last saw Al at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner, but was not able to join them for dinner on Christmas.

Al was one of the best friends of the North Fork Flathead, where his family owns property. He served on many boards, working with friends and neighbors, to preserve the biological and social integrity of one of the last best places. In the mid-1980s, he was one of the conservationists from the U.S. and Canada who met at the border at Moose City to discuss ways of protecting the basin of the North Fork Flathead as an international conservation reserve. Those were happier times, when the border guards from both nations were present and part of the event, and no one was arrested for stepping across the border.

Al was among the smartest and most decent men I’ve ever met. He helped me through some rough times. In years past, before drought made the activity too dangerous, we joined with Marc Spratt and others each Independence Day to shoot off several hundred dollars worth of fireworks in his back yard. One year we tried igniting the fuses electrically, Al’s idea to improve safety, but had to resort to matches, punk sticks, and running like hell, when the wires on the fuses failed to ignite the fuses.

More recently, Al turned his attention to 3-D printing, the fabrication method that’s revolutionizing manufacturing. At the 2014 Makers Faire at Flathead Community College, where I made the above photograph, he presented his work. Students especially were fascinated by his 3-D printer, and by his lucid explanations — he had a gift for teaching — of the technology.

I wish Divine Providence had gifted him with a stronger ticker. This was not his first heart attack, and he completed a comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation program. But it was not enough. My thoughts are with his family and friends as we begin the New Year poorer for his loss, but still rich in our memories of him. Rest in peace, old friend.