Her only nickname is what the five grandkids call her – “Mimi.” Perhaps the moniker “Rev. Go-To” would work in the other worlds she inhabits. She is leaving big footprints in those worlds.
The Rev. Pam Neal is the minister of administration at First Baptist Church Knoxville, responsible for the church’s financials, facilities and personnel. That makes her the “Go-To” on an array of issues at the 1,200-member church on Main Street downtown.
For 21 years she has been a volunteer chaplain for the Knoxville Police Department and for the last 12 years has been the chaplain coordinator for the other 34 chaplains. Another “Go-To” job.
And on July 22 she begins a job packed full of prestige and honor – and work. The Rev. Neal, reared in Fountain City and a resident there to this day, will begin a two-year term as president of the 2,500-member International Conference of Police Chaplains (ICPC) at its 2019 46th annual training seminar in Wichita. This is really a Go-To assignment.
There’s little doubt her degree in organizational management from Tusculum University comes in handy. She’s juggling a lot of balls at the same time.
KPD Chief Eve Thomas is a big fan and admirer.
“Pam is an invaluable member of the Knoxville Police Department,” Chief Thomas says. “Regardless of the time or day, Pam has never hesitated to drop whatever she is doing to support our officers in times of need. She is deeply, deeply respected within our department and her upcoming job as president of the International Conference of Police Chaplains shows the respect and admiration she holds amongst her peers across the country.”
When you ask any of the KPD chaplains about her, it’s easy to hear their respect and reverence. “She’s something else,” the Rev. Mike Patty said. “I do not know how she does all that she does. Pretty incredible.”
Neal has a unique perspective and understanding of the needs of officers and their families – she’s been married to a police officer for 49 years (their 50th anniversary will be in March 2020). Husband Ron retired in November 2005 as an investigator after 32 years with the KPD. They have two sons, the fathers of the five grandkids.
“I really struggled as a young wife with two young sons married to a policeman. I was not happy about his decision for a career and it took me a few years to realize that this was his calling in life,” she said. “In very few professions do husbands and wives and children have to worry about if their family member will come home OK, or if they’ll come home at all. It stresses out the whole family. I understand how the job affects the families. Until you’ve been in their shoes you can’t understand it.”
Neal grew up in Fountain City’s Smithwood Baptist Church, and that’s where she met Ron during a Sunday night Baptist Training Union youth group meeting. He was a high school senior at Central and she was a junior there.
Before her career at First Baptist began in 2012, she worked 26 years for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Knoxville as the agency’s chief of asset management.
After the long years of being a chaplain and a policeman’s wife, she has a clear understanding of a chaplain’s role. “I know how much the officers need chaplains. They need people beside them to love, care and support them without judging them,” she explains. The chaplains also assist the officers – when asked – to accompany them on the tough next-of-kin notifications when a family member dies. They even step up to help with this when someone from out of town is killed or dies here in an accident. “Three or four years ago a man from Hendersonville (TN) was killed here and I called a Catholic priest there who was in our organization and asked if he could help,” she remembered. “It turns out that he knew the family. There are no coincidences.”
Neal holds “Diplomate” credentials from the ICPC and in 2011 was presented the organization’s highest honor – the John A. Price Award that sits prominently in her office. Price was one of the founders of ICPC. To earn the Diplomate designation, she completed 500 hours of training.
From 2007-2015 she was chair of the ICPC Education Committee, leading the standardizing of the ICPC’s 12 basic courses. She was chair of the ICPC national conference when it met in Knoxville in 2009.
She cuts a wide swath in Tennessee too. Neal has been the driving force to start chaplain programs in Blount, Roane, Anderson, Sevier, Grainger and Campbell counties, plus the Chattanooga Police Department. She also did the same for the Jefferson County Parish Sheriff’s Office in New Orleans.
And now she will lead this major international organization. “Being sworn in as president of ICPC is very humbling to me. There are so many wonderful chaplains who sacrificially love and support the men and women in law enforcement. For them to entrust me with the leadership of this great organization is a wonderful gift. It also means that I have an opportunity to make things even better to assist law enforcement chaplains all over the world in becoming the very best chaplains they can be,” she says. “It also means that I can help find ways to come alongside those who find themselves in need of spiritual encouragement and support themselves for the chaplain who needs a chaplain. I am extremely blessed to become the next president of ICPC.”
Neal also is taking on another job. Years ago, there was a Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Auxiliary of wives who supported the officers and the department. It eventually folded, but a new group has coalesced and calls itself the “Blue Hens.” They are about 90 members and she is nurturing them in how to best support the officers and how to support each other.
When she finally sits down at home to relax, she enjoys TV – especially the three NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) shows and Law & Order. “Not many people know this except for Ron – I’m a big fan of the James Bond movies and watch them on re-runs over and over, but only the Sean Connery movies,” she says. “I just love Sean Connery.”
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, please email Tom King or call him at 865-659-3562.