By Layne Bruce
BRUCE, Miss. — It was mentioned a good bit over the last few days how she truly did have the ability to light up every room she entered. And, with an individual like Lisa McNeece, that didn’t always mean the same thing. With someone like Lisa, you’re never left wondering how she feels.
Mostly, though, when she entered the room, you could not mistake her warmth and effervescence nor her good humor. Lisa was engaging and funny, feisty and protective, vivacious and nurturing. She was genuine. What you saw was what you got.
The two of us shared a similar sense of humor, and often that meant we were poking fun at the absurd moments of life. She also had an admirable knack for making light of awkward moments — those times when most of us would not exactly know what to say.
Years ago during an MPA convention reception at the Memphis Zoo, Lisa’s husband Joel — from whom she was rarely separated — was unable to attend that year’s event. So Lisa and I — whose fathers were contemporaries in the press association — hung around together that evening and strolled through the park. It was before I joined MPA and was working as a newspaper editor out of state. When we came upon Rupert and Rita Howell of The Panolian, they were kind and welcoming, and shaking my hand, declared to Lisa, “I don’t think we’ve ever met your husband before.”
Without drawing a breath, Lisa commented: “Well, guess what. You still haven’t.”
And then she laughed that marvelous, infectious, very true laugh.
We sometimes joke that matchmaking is a little-known but very effective member service we provide at the press association. Joel and Lisa first met at an MPA convention over 20 years ago, and, at the following one the next summer, their relationship was kindled in the close confines of an MPA hospitality suite. A mutual friend and Joel’s boss at the time, Tim James, made the introduction.
The gatherings were populated by some of the Association’s legendary members in those days — Gale Denley and Sid Salter, Charlie Dunagin and Bill Jacobs, Ruby Del Harden and David Hampton, Joe Lee and Dan Phillips, and so many more — including fresh faces like Jim Prince’s.
But it may be best remembered for offering a bathtub full of beer. Romance blossomed amid the Budweiser and Miller Lite that evening, and the couple was married less than a year later.
I’ve always been just a little jealous of that. The only thing I’ve ever left the hospitality suite with is a hangover. And, these days, the bill.
Joel joined a large, marvelous family with the incredible bonus of a great job with the state’s best weekly newspaper, The Calhoun County Journal in Bruce. He gained another set of parents, sisters, children and eventually grandchildren. But working side by side with Lisa has been a singular joy in his life I know, and that kind of relationship is not one that would work for all couples. But Lisa and Joel complemented each other so well, it was right and natural and, simply, perfect.
Their mutual love of the newspaper business is rivaled only by their deep and abiding love of family — especially for those three charming grandchildren on whom Lisa doted.
Their young lives will be forever filled with happy memories and never-ending shared stories of their grandmother, whose presence in their hearts and memories and souls will never fade.
When I got the call that Lisa was gone, I sat in stunned silence. I understood the words, but I could not comprehend what they meant.
Charles Dickens wrote in A Christmas Carol: “There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have.”
That Lisa did.
She nurtured her lovely family; cherished her close friendships; doted on a long line of faithful canines; worked hard for her newspaper and her community; and laughed heartily at the funny moments.
It’s her unmistakable laugh I think I’ll miss most of all.
Her longtime close friend and colleague Sid Salter wrote in his column shortly after her loss of moments he, Lisa, and her family shared at the funeral of a longtime fellow Neshoba County Fairgoer just a short time before: “Truth be told,” Sid wrote. “We all laughed together more than we cried.”
It is very true that Lisa would want that now.
She was fond of saying, “you don’t have to be happy, just cooperative.” But the reverse of that dictum applies in a time such as this, because Lisa would only tolerate so much grief. She would want us to laugh more than we cry.
And when the grief subsides — and it slowly but surely will — and just as it seems there is nothing to fill that vacant place in the souls of her family and dear friends, they’ll think of Lisa.
And she will once again light up the room in our hearts.
Adapted from remarks made Dec. 12, 2018. Layne Bruce is executive director of MPA-MPS. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.