TUPELO – Former Tupelo Mayor Edwin “Ed” Neelly III died Wednesday at the age of 78 after a short stay in hospice care.
Neelly served a single term as mayor of Tupelo from 2005 to 2009, holding office as a Republican. He decided not to seek re-election. Before that, Neelly held an at-large seat on the City Council for a single term.
On Wednesday, Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton praised Neelly for his personal character and his fiscal leadership at City Hall.
This theme of Neelly’s kind, gentlemanly demeanor is prominent among the remembrances of his colleagues.
“I’ll just be honest with you, we butted heads on a few issues,” said Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan. “But when I walked out of his door, we could go and drink coffee again the next morning and it never came back up. He never held any grudge.”
Like Bryan, Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis remembered Neelly as a pleasant presence.
“He was very professional with everything he did,” Davis said. “He was deeply concerned with the progress of Tupelo.”
Bryan credited Neelly with more lasting impact as well. Bryan, now in his fourth term of office, said Neelly – whom he described as a smart and business-savvy leader – was always available to speak and eager to impart knowledge.
“I’m a better councilman today because of Ed Neelly,” said Bryan, who served his first term of office alongside Neelly’s stint as mayor. “He helped me probably more than anyone has helped me in city government.”
Neelly entered politics later in life after a long career in the banking industry. During that career, he served as CEO of the former Peoples Bank & Trust Co., now Renasant Bank, and as president of The First American National Bank.
His time as mayor saw some economic success for the city and some key policy victories but was also marked by turbulence, including clashes with the City Council and several ongoing controversies.
Under his leadership, the city also completed several drainage and road projects, implemented a curbside recycling plan, built an expanded baseball complex and enacted a smoking ban.
However, working relations with the City Council were not always smooth. Neelly also clashed with Chief Finance Officer Daphne Holcombe and ultimatley fired her late in his term, an action that led to a lawsuit which the council agreed to settle against Neelly’s wishes.
Significant and ongoing controversy involving the police department led to persistent accusations of racial bias through the city of Tupelo’s employment practices.
The City Council decided to hire a consultant to study the issue. Neelly ultimately announced that he had no confidence in the consultant, Cindy Brown, and disregarded her findings.
Neelly grew up in Grenada and found his way to Tupelo later in life. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi and also graduated from the Louisiana State University School of Banking and the Harvard University School for Senior Bank Executives.
A funeral has been set for 11 a.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo with a graveside service to follow at 3 p.m. at Woodlawn Cemetery in Grenada. Visitation will be from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. Friday at W. E. Pegues Funeral Home in Tupelo.
— Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
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