Bruce Neal, longtime St. John's Regatta gunner, remembered as fount of knowledge

Bruce Neal, the longest-serving member of the Royal St. John's Regatta committee, died Tuesday at the age of 93.

Neal died at Kenny's Pond Retirement Home, surrounded by family.

For 40 years, Neal fired the ceremonial gunshot during the rowing races at Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John's.

Neal had been doing it for so long that, when he first started, it wasn't even a shotgun being used, says Chris Neary, president of the regatta committee.

"In the early days when he was doing it, it wasn't just a gun — he was using a small cannon in the start of the races," said Neary.

We will miss him terribly. - Chris Neary

Neary remembers Neal as an integral part of the annual event, adding that he was involved right up until the end of his days.

"Whenever I needed a history lesson on the committee or had a question about how things used to be done, I'd go right to Bruce. And Bruce was always right up to the task. Last time I spoke to him, he was sharp as a tack," Neary said.

"We're certainly losing a lot of history when we lost him."

A storied life

Through the decades, Neal's involvement in the regatta led him to meet important guests, Neary said — including the Queen when she visited in the 1970s.

"From my understanding, yes he did actually get a chance to meet the Queen … and had a chat with her, obviously, as a starter of the race," said Neary.

At the 201st rowing of the regatta in August this year — the last one Neal would attend — he was also recognized by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his involvement in the regatta for 71 years.

Candace Moaker

"And he got a standing ovation," Neary remembers.

"I was glad that we did that, because it's certainly a nice way to recognize him. And of course, being his last regatta, it's a nice way to remember him."

Neary said traces of Neal's legacy can be found in Shanneyganock's version of the song Up the Pond, which makes reference to Neal.

"In the beginning that song they referenced, 'There's an old man with a shotgun standing in front of a group of people and nobody gets scared.' He was talking about Bruce Neal," Neary said.

"There's that connection that Bruce has with every regatta.… We miss him terribly."

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