“He really did not want his condition to define him.”
Almost a decade ago, the Gazette published a cover story about Kevin Neary C’04’s life after a gunshot paralyzed him from the neck down [“Hope Is Part of the Plan,” Jul|Aug 2013].
The feature, as the title indicated, did not revolve around feelings of bitterness, despair, or anger. Quite the opposite. Despite needing a wheelchair and round-the-clock care, Neary managed to maintain a hopeful spirit—a feeling that his family say continued until February 20, when he passed away after falling ill with pneumonia. He was 40.
“He absolutely kept the optimism and hope for the future,” said his younger brother Chris, “while also recognizing what was realistic changed a little over time. Being a quadriplegic is a day-to-day grind. But what really kept him going and what always lit him up and gave him a positive attitude were the people in his life.”
In Chris’s eulogy, which was made public on kevinneary.com (where updates on Neary’s progress had been shared since he was mugged and shot, steps from his Philadelphia home, in November 2011), Chris shared some of what he’ll miss the most about his brother: talking about the Phillies, rehashing the Super Bowl, setting up a killer parlay. He also touched on how Kevin maintained many of the same qualities he and his other brother, Joe, had grown to love before his injury: “His knack for cracking an inappropriate joke at just the right time. … His mischievous nature. … His relentlessly positive attitude. Or, above all, his genuine and unwavering concern for others.”
Caring about the people in his life, noted his father Joseph, is what truly kept up Kevin’s spirits over the past decade. Even though it could take up to two hours to get ready each morning, he loved meeting friends at a bar or restaurant or Phillies game, mentoring other wheelchair-bound individuals at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, or attending the weddings of former Penn classmates and his two brothers. Chris said that at his own wedding, Kevin’s best man speech “brought down the house.”
“He had as normal a life, I think, as you could have with his injury,” said Joseph, who worked tirelessly as Kevin’s primary caregiver in their Delaware County home. “I think it was tough for him toward the end. But he remained incredibly optimistic. When people walked into the room, he lit up—which is something he inherited from his mother.”
Because so much of his joy revolved around other people, the pandemic was especially hard on Kevin, whose in-person interactions became more limited. (A COVID nursing shortage also put more of a burden on his father.) Then repeated bouts of pneumonia over the last year took a toll on his compromised lungs.
“After one case of pneumonia,” said Joseph, “he was down and said he wanted to be with his mother” Marian, who died of cancer when Kevin was in college. “But I would say in 11½ years, only twice did he ever feel sorry for himself. I think he kind of learned that when his mother went through cancer—because she never felt sorry for herself. It was just his nature to be optimistic.”
Up until the end, Kevin still had plenty of joyful moments. The night before he was admitted to the hospital for the last time, he shared boneless wings with his nurses. Last fall, his father threw him a surprise 40th birthday party at a nearby ballroom. He recently got to spend time with his three little nephews, letting them bop him on the nose and riding them around on his wheelchair. “I could always tell he wished he could have kids of his own,” Chris sighed. “He would’ve been a fantastic father.
“He really did not want his condition to define him,” his brother concluded. “The more we can talk about Kevin, and his unique mix of charm and perseverance and resilience and intelligence, the better we all are.” —DZ