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Giving in Action: Alum credits achievements and success to Vanderbilt

Posted by on Monday, October 5, 2020 in Fall 2020, Giving in Action, Vanderbilt Community .

John B. Neeld, BA’62, MD’66, has a loyalty to Vanderbilt that runs deep. “Everything I’ve achieved — my successful career in medicine and medical politics —I owe to Vanderbilt. It all came from this place.”

Neeld was able to attend Vanderbilt as an undergraduate because of a National Merit Scholarship. His father was a clerk with the U.S. Postal Service, and attending Vanderbilt would not have been possible without some financial help. Neeld knew early on he wanted to be a doctor. However, he chose to forgo the opportunity to complete his undergraduate degree in three years before entering medical school. “Since I would be concentrating on medicine my entire career, I wanted to broaden my experience in the liberal arts. I’ve never regretted it.”

This experience undoubtedly contributed to a successful second career in organized medical politics. Over the years he has served as president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, been chair of the specialties delegation to the American Medical Association and on the Board of AMPAC. Now retired from Northside Anesthesiology in Atlanta, he has stayed very involved in these organizations.

As he reflected on some of his memories of his time at Vanderbilt, Neeld fondly recalled John Shapiro, MD, the “legendary professor of Pathology who knew every student by name.”

Barton McSwain, MD, was another instructor who made an impression on Neeld — and his father. “My dad’s football tickets were directly behind Dr.

McSwain’s, and about 20 years after I graduated, they figured out the connection. Dr. McSwain ended up mailing my dad a copy of my grade from his class, which happened to be very good. Since all medical school courses were pass/fail, it was the only course I knew how I did!”

Neeld remains close with his medical school class, staying in touch with many of them and reuniting during many Vanderbilt Reunions. For their 46th Reunion, Neeld’s class endowed a medical scholarship, which he supported through a charitable remainder unitrust to help them reach their goal.

“I now have three annuities with Vanderbilt. Since I am retired, the annuity was particularly appealing to my wife, Gail, and me. We get payments for both our lifetimes as well as tax benefits. And we know the university will benefit as well. The charitable gift annuity is a win-win,” said Neeld.

Neeld and his wife have also included Vanderbilt in their estate plans. “I think someone who has benefited greatly from other people’s generosity has a responsibility to give back. Someone put aside money to give me a chance. I’ve always known I would help others like I was helped.”

To today’s students considering a medical career, Neeld also has some advice: “Do it because it’s the only thing you want to do. It’s not just an option; it’s your only choice.” He also encourages medical students to choose their specialty wisely, focusing on their passion, not their income, which is another reason to support scholarships in his mind.

Though Neeld’s desire to support Vanderbilt is personal, paying forward what he received, he also believes all alumni should follow suit. “I would ask my fellow alumni, ‘Where would you be without Vanderbilt? What would you be without Vanderbilt?’ Once they answer, inevitably they would have to give back because Vanderbilt has given us so much, from lifelong friendships to opportunities that opened the door for successful careers.”

Both now and in the future, the Neelds’ generosity and support of Vanderbilt will give others those same chances, building a legacy of impact that will last for generations.

Planned gifts help secure the School of Medicine’s future. For more information about how to create your legacy through a planned gift to Vanderbilt, contact Taylor Wood at or 615-343-5648.