Surrounded by his loving family, Melvin King Neville, 82, passed away on March 31, 2021 at his home in Davis, CA, after battling Lewy Body Dementia and complications from Prostate Cancer. In a true testament to his character, Melvin showed the same kindness and strength in his final days that epitomized his life. He is survived by his wife of nearly 57 years, Anna; brother Richard (Laura Lou); son, Lawrence Neville (Renee) and grandchildren - Mark, Daniel, Samantha, Madeline, and Henri; daughter Sarah Neville-Morgan (Hunt) and granddaughters Julianna and Anissa; daughter Amy Wayne (Clinton) and grandsons Tristan and Dorian; son Jesse, son Roger, daughter Annelise, and son Gregory Neville (Rachel) as well as one long-term foreign exchange student, Fatma Platt (Josh) and sons Andrew and Maddox.
Born in Evanston, IL, to Jessamine and Harvey Neville, Mel graduated from Tucson High School in Tucson, AZ, in 1956. While there, he was awarded the National Merit Scholarship Program in recognition of outstanding performance and promise. Mel was a champion chess player and also finished first among Arizona high school seniors in the second annual state mathematics contest and received a 10-inch slide rule from Picket & Eckel, Inc. as his prize.
After high school, Mel attended the California Institute of Technology where he received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry in 1960. After graduating from Caltech, he moved to the East Coast to attend Harvard University, where he obtained a Master of Science (M.S.) in physics (1961) and later a Ph.D. in Anthropology (1967). In the fall of 1963, Mel attended a Law School mixer with Wheelock College and met his wife, Anna (née Eaton). Their first date was an anthropology lecture. They enjoyed exploring lots of the historical sites around Boston in his VW Bug. They were engaged in Spring 1964, and married in August of 1964 in Troy, New York. They first lived in Berkeley, CA, while waiting for their visas for India, where Mel had a National Institute of Mental Health Research grant to study the social behavior of Rhesus monkeys as part of his Ph.D. thesis fieldwork. They lived in Uttar Pradesh in Northern India (Lucknow, Haldwani, and Katkardam) for 18 months. They returned from India on a ship via the Suez Canal, exploring the pyramids in Egypt along the way. They waited for their next ship in Italy during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Returning to Boston, Mel finished his Ph.D. while Anna finished her last semester at Wheelock. In 1966, they moved to Davis, California, where Mel began teaching Anthropology at UC Davis. He remained at UC Davis until 1976, with leaves of absence for the Pan American Health Organization under the United Nations on a diplomatic passport in South America. First in Trinidad with Anna and their oldest child, Lawrence. From 1969-1970, he did fieldwork on howler monkeys in Venezuela near Calabozo, and the family (Anna, Lawrence, and Sarah) lived on a ranch owned by Tomas Blohm. Circa 1971-74, Mel spent time in Columbia before moving to Iquitos, Peru, along with Anna, Lawrence, and Sarah. While there, Mel worked to set up National Parks to create protected areas for howler monkeys. He had a boat built in order to travel easily up and down the Amazon with his team. Turning down a promotion that would have required more time spent in other countries without his family, they returned to Davis in 1974. The Nevilles spent two more years there and had a third child, Amy, before leaving California for a new faculty position at Loyola University in Chicago, IL. Mel and Anna settled in Winnetka due to the excellent school system, and welcomed two more children, Jesse and Roger. While teaching anthropology at Loyola, Mel ended up obtaining an M.S. in computer science in 1984. Immediately after, the Neville family moved to Flagstaff, AZ, where Mel continued his teaching career in the School of Engineering and Technology at Northern Arizona University. While in Flagstaff, Mel and Anna welcomed two more children, Annelise and Gregory. Throughout their marriage, they both adopted and had biological children, opened their home to children in foster care, sponsored an amazing refugee family from Cambodia who lived with them for several months and became fast friends, took in numerous high school students from study abroad programs, and had several students who ended up living with them for multiple years. Melvin retired as a full profession from NAU in June 2004. While at NAU, he also was a guest lecturer for computer science classes in Spanish at the Technological Institute of Nogales in Nogales, Mexico.
As a college professor, he taught the next generation of bright young minds the subjects of Anthropology and Computer Engineering. As a father, he taught his family the importance of doing the right thing, especially when no one is watching, and opening your heart, home, and time to help others. And as a person, he taught everyone he encountered the gift of kindness, respect, and human dignity. If you asked a hundred people to describe Mel, they would all give a different testimonial of an incredible person. Mel was an academic, a professor, a scientist, a researcher, a loving husband, a father, a grandfather, and a friend. But above all, Mel was a dedicated and gifted teacher who was contacted by former students throughout his life. One of his favorite classes combined his love of anthropology and computer science - The Mars Course. Mel was a member of Tau Beta Pi, the National Engineering Honor Society and, in 1988, he was a main member of a design team that was a runner-up in Boeing’s Outstanding Educator contents and, in 1999, was the winner. He was a co-principal investigator on several National Science Foundation projects and a published author of numerous articles and chapters in texts related to both computer science and anthropology.
Mel loved family walks up to Michele’s bakery to get doughnuts on Saturday mornings and drives and bike rides around the North Shore of Chicago. He loved hikes in the Coconino National Forest in Flagstaff and going to the Grand Canyon and other hiking places around Northern Arizona. In 1995, Mel led several of his kids on their most memorable hike to Havasupai Canyon where they explored waterfalls, slept under the night sky, and packed everything in and out. He loved classical music and opera and enjoyed attending the ballet and theater. A champion chess player in high school, he played with all his children and then grandchildren and also enjoyed regular family game nights up until the time of his passing. Upon retiring to Davis, CA, in 2004, he joined the International House and participated in language groups for both Spanish and German. He especially enjoyed the German club’s monthly filmabend movie nights and potlucks. Mel enjoyed learning languages and spoke Spanish, German, and Russian fluently. For a few years, he took Mandarin with his son Roger. Mel deeply enjoyed reading and had a collection of westerns, science fiction, mysteries, and Pongo, Tintin, Astrix, and Far Side comics. He often was in the middle of 3 books at a time - usually one in English, German, and Spanish. A true animal lover, Mel could always be found reading a book with several cats curled up on his lap and a dog or two next to him.
His love for travel continued throughout his life, and the family spent several summers in Europe visiting family in Edinburgh and good friends in Belgium and Norway. While living on the North Shore of Chicago, they crossed the US several times in their VW camping van to visit family in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Virginia and even did a cross-country summer trek with the Dewulfs from Belgium. Following retirement, he and Anna frequently visited Portland and Arizona to visit children and grandchildren as well as traveling with their children and extended families on an Alaskan cruise, to Europe several times where they rented houses in the south of France and Paris, drove the Romantic Road through southern Germany with his son Greg and future daughter-in-law, Rachel, took a European cruise, visited Prince Edwards Island, traveled to Peru with his son Lawrence on a Doctors without Borders mission, and the East Coast to visit family and see his granddaughter Julianna’s ballet summer intensives with the Bolshoi and Ellison Ballet in Connecticut and New York City.
He loved his grandchildren deeply and proudly watched them in their activities including ballet performances, gymnastics meets, Ninja Warrior competitions, soccer games, and horseback riding. Melvin and Anna returned to Davis, CA, upon his retirement to reunite with longtime friends and spend lots of time enjoying grandchildren living in Davis, Burbank, and Portland. Mel enjoyed volunteering in the Spanish Immersion Program at Marguerite Montgomery and the GATE class at Pioneer Elementary in Davis. He also took his son, Jesse, to his therapeutic riding school, Horse Play, to let Jesse live his dream of being a cowboy and marshall. He frequently commented that he had won the lottery by getting to spend so much time with his children and grandchildren after retirement.
A loving husband, dad, grandfather, and friend, Mel will be remembered for living selflessly with dignity, honor, kindness, and compassion for all as well as for his dry sense of humor and quips to his children about any hardship building their character. His family will keep his infamous sourdough pancake mix going but not his tradition of a dry bag of sandwiches for hikes and road trips. The family will be gathering in Flagstaff in the future for a remembrance hike in Mel’s beloved San Francisco peaks. In lieu of other items, consider making a donation to Lewy Body Dementia research or to Northern Arizona University’s College of Engineering, Computer Science to support greater access by minority students of color and women.