Neal was born March 23‚ 1965 in Jacksonville‚ Florida.
He began his career of more than 20 years as a firefighter at Jacksonville International Airport where he was aircraft rescue trained. The remainder of his career was with Jacksonville Fire Rescue‚ at station #4. There he was an engineer on the ladder truck and a part of the Special Ops team‚ trained in hazardous materials and high angle rescue. He repelled from highest point of the Dames Point Bridge.
He truly loved his fire house family and his second home. He enjoyed giving tours of the station to school children and watching their faces light up as he told them about the fire trucks. He took great pride in preparing meals for the guys. When we would call and ask what he was doing he would answer ‘fighting fires and saving lives.’
Neal had a contagious laugh with a beautiful smile and big brown eyes. He never met a stranger‚ and was always willing to help anyone in need. His gentleness and compassion for others made him a great firefighter. Among his many hobbies‚ Neal liked reading‚ learning new things and working with his hands making‚ building or fixing things. He loved his big truck and fifth wheel and traveling in them.
He graduated from high school in Sevierville‚ Tennessee and he always loved the breathtaking views in the mountains and making annual trips to visit his brother and family that live there now.
Neal was a loving husband to Debbie‚ his wife of 19 years‚ a loving dad to Neal Joseph Tarkington‚ Mike (Katie) and Chris (Jessica) Payne and a proud grandpa to Ethan. He was a loving son to Eunice (Charles) Haspel and Otis (Aileen) Tarkington. He and his brother Bryan (Tina) shared a special bond along with his older brothers: Dennis (Carolyn)‚ Robert (Gail) and Billy (Kathy) Tarkington and his loving nephews and nieces. His brother Robert‚ brother-in-law and nephew are also firefighters. Neal loved spending time with his grandparents‚ aunts‚ uncles and cousins‚ showing us all what a great cook he was‚ telling jokes and just having fun.
Neal was 43 years young when he went to Heaven on October 11‚ 2008 from a heart attack. Our time with him was far too short‚ but he taught us so much and left us with so many wonderful memories. We are truly blessed with having him in our lives. He showed everyone ‘that it is not the years in your life‚ but the life in your years’ and for that we will always be grateful to him. He left such a void in our lives and will be ‘FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS.’