US Stamps

Randolph L. ‘Randy’ Neil, 1941-2024

Mar 20, 2024, 11 AM
Randall F. “Randy” Neil, whose philatelic contributions influenced an entire generation of stamp collectors, died March 6 at the age of 82. He was known affectionately to many as stamp collecting’s cheerleader. Image courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service.

By John M. Hotchner

Randy Neil, well known to American stamp collectors as an author, exhibitor, editor, researcher and expert on several aspects of United States philately, died peacefully in hospice on March 6 at the age of 82.

His wife, Denise Fouquet-Neil, and daughter, Merritt Neil, were with him as he fought to overcome multiple medical issues that eventually combined to cause his death.

Known affectionately as stamp collecting’s cheerleader, Randy was always positive and optimistic, as exemplified by his last words to his family, “The worst day of my life was still wonderful.”

His daughter said that after Randy’s passing, one of his attending nurses told her that in his final days, Randy had spent time talking with him about the joys of stamp collecting, and the nurse intended to take up the hobby.

Our mutual friend Trish Kaufmann, the premier Civil War scholar and dealer, said: “Randy Neil’s philatelic influence comes with an impossibly long list of accomplishments. With his passing, philately has lost a beloved icon whose impact on our hobby has been — and will continue to be — enormous.”

Indeed, the breadth of Randy’s involvements and accomplishments is amazing. It is hard to know where to start. Perhaps it should be that his passing is a personal loss because he and I worked together on various projects over 40 years and formed a deep friendship.

Despite the occasional disagreement, we were always aiming at the same goal: making stamp collecting more fulfilling for collectors, and more attractive to noncollectors. His presence in my life will continue, and I am grateful for that.

Randy is best known today as the founding editor (in 2006) of the American Stamp Dealers Association’s American Stamp Collector & Dealer and Kelleher’s Stamp Collector’s Quarterly, which he conceived and brought to life. It has been published quarterly since 2015.

He also served as editor of the Philatelic Exhibitor, the journal of the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors (AAPE), from 2010 to 2021, and editor of the Confederate Philatelist (now the Civil War Philatelist) from 2008 to 2013.

In all these editorial endeavors, he recruited the top experts who produced exceptional, well-illustrated articles with innovative graphic presentations that drew much praise.

Beyond that, he also recruited and mentored new writers, who have since become regular contributors. One of his many recruits, Kevin Lowther, now a regular in several periodicals, said, “If not for Randy, I would not be publishing postal history today.”

But there is much more to the Randy Neil story. He was a longtime board member of the American Philatelic Society and served as APS president during 1993-97. In that role, he is credited with recruiting a new generation of talented, though not yet prominent, collectors to guide the APS into the new century.

He was the founder and first president of the AAPE (1986-89), which rapidly gained a membership of more than 1,000.

The AAPE has been instrumental in promoting acceptance of new categories of exhibiting, such as single-frame, display class, thematic, postal history and first-day cover exhibiting, and others as well.

The AAPE has also guided exhibitors into the computer age, and Randy’s books on the craft of exhibiting have been standard references for a generation of new and even experienced exhibitors.

He also lent his publishing, graphic and editorial skills to important literature by legends of philatelic scholarship, such as Anthony S. “Tony” Wawrukiewicz, Don Evans, Jack Rosenthal, Conrad Bush and John Kimbrough.

Working with Bush and Kimbrough was the result of Randy’s fascination with the stamps of the Confederate States general issues, especially the 10¢ steel plate issues of 1863-65. Randy’s exhibits on that subject earned 23 gold medals and two grand awards from 1971 to 2018.

His second major exhibit, “The U.S. Two-Cent Red Brown Issue of 1883-1887,” shown between 1983 and 1995, was undertaken to demonstrate that an exhibit of a basically cheap stamp could win major medals.

In the two aforementioned exhibits, as well as in other areas, he made major research contributions to the subject areas.

In recent years, Randy had formed exhibits of the Princess Grace issues of Monaco and the U.S. 1931 Christmas seal. He was working on an exhibit of the postal history of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which happened just nine days before Randy was born.

Randy was one of the most influential stamp and cover collectors of his era, and one of the best-known names in contemporary American philately. When he held an office, he was never content to simply fill a chair or continue what someone else had begun.

He was a man of vision, with the talent, work ethic and ability to recruit helpers to convert vision into reality. He was an innovator all his life, creating new organizations, columns and periodicals, and originating new exhibit subjects to enrich our hobby for all its participants.

His philatelic journey began at age 14, when his father sent him to New York City by train to visit the 1956 Fipex international stamp show. There, he was able to see his first exhibit in a frame, a single page on the U.S. 7¢ Liberty stamp. He also met Harry Lindquist, publisher of Stamps magazine.

During the show, Randy was recruited to do a column on youth philately in Weekly Philatelic Gossip, and a star was born.

His nonphilatelic life was equally notable. He founded the Kansas City Chiefs Cheerleaders in 1963, and he converted that success into a commercial firm training cheerleaders nationwide. In 1979, he authored the Official Cheerleaders Handbook, which became a New York Times bestseller.

When he retired from the cheerleading business in 1996, he used his mastery of computer technology to immerse himself in philately full time.

He opened a business creating advertising and websites for some of America’s best-known dealers. In doing so, he helped to propel the philatelic trade into the modern era.

Jim Lee, one of his early clients, said: “It was Randy’s influence that pushed me to the Internet. He designed my website and a new way of doing business started gathering momentum.”

“I’m sure Randy is going at top speed in his new dimension!” Lee said.

His broad contributions to the hobby were recognized by his invitation in 2021 to sign the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists, the world’s most prestigious philatelic honor. In addition, he was a fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society London.

In 2000, he received the John N. Luff award for service to the APS and was elected to the APS Writers Unit 30 hall of fame that same year.

He received the 1999 Distinguished Philatelist award of the U.S. Philatelic Classics Society, the 2017 Charles J Peterson award for lifetime achievement in philatelic literature and the Collectors Club’s 2023 Alfred F. Liechtenstein Memorial award for distinguished service to philately.

David Coogle, co-chairman of Daniel F. Kelleher Auctions, called Randy a “national treasure,” and I would add “a transformative force.” He lived a consequential life and will be long remembered.

Now he joins his philatelic heroes — Harry Lindquist, John N. Luff, John K. Tiffany, Jack Rosenthal, Tom Alexander and Clyde Jennings — as legends whose works will continue to inspire new collectors.

Randy is survived by his wife and daughter, and grandchildren Jackson Engel and Angela Engel.

A celebration of his life was held March 16 in Leawood, Kan. I would end with “rest in peace, dear friend,” except that Randy always had many irons in many fires.

He enjoyed being busy, the creative process and seeing results. Resting is the last thing he would want to be doing.

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