Clayton “Clay” Morris Neal, Sr., a joint owner and the Executive Vice President of JRN, Inc., passed away peacefully Thursday, June 1, 2023 at Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia, Tennessee.
Clay was born on June 24, 1965 in Nashville, Tennessee to Linda Faye Morris Neal and the late John Raymond Neal, Sr.
Clay is survived by his loving wife Tina Marie Turner Neal of Columbia whom he married on August 17, 1995; daughter, Ashley Anne-Marie Neal of Columbia; son, Clayton Morris Neal, Jr. of Columbia; mother, Linda Faye Morris of Columbia; brothers, Brett Alexander Neal (Jennifer) and Tyrone Kenneth Neal both of Columbia; sister, Grace Anne Morris of Columbia; mother in law, Marlene Manning of Franklin; uncle, David G. Neal (Iosifovna) of Columbia; aunt, Anne Harris of Pawleys Island, South Carolina; and cousins, Dr. Mark H. Hays, IV (Sarah) of Tucson, Arizona, Father John Hays (Ginny) of Tallahassee, Florida, and David Hays (Robin) of Pawleys Island, South Carolina.
He was preceded in death by his brother, John Raymond Neal, Jr. April 5, 1980; father, John Raymond Neal, Sr. June 11, 2018; and son, John Raymond Neal II November 13, 2020.
Clay attended Culver Military Academy where he was a member of the prestigious Black Horse Troop, graduated from The Woodhall School in Bethlehem, Connecticut, attended Brevard College and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
Clay loved, honored and cherished family foremost and above all else. It is without question that family was the center of Clay’s heart and soul and always came first in his life and priorities. While not attending to and nurturing family, Clay could be found working prolifically in his passion for real estate and the restaurant business. His mark on the family business and the restaurant landscape is indelible. For over 35 years, Clay’s passion for acquiring “corner, red-light” real estate sites established the JRN family business as one of the largest franchise restaurant companies in the United States with locations in 11 states across the Southeast. He was the recipient of YUM! Brands Developer of the Year Award in 2020. Over his career, Clay was instrumental in the development of many prototype restaurant images in the KFC system including the first Next Generation KFC in 2022. Most recently, Clay acquired additional property in Corbin, Kentucky, allowing for JRN’s extensive restoration and preservation of the original Colonel Sanders Café and Museum, the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is designated on the National Register of Historic Places.
Clay had a passion for antiquities and deep appreciation for art and antiques. He was a joint owner of Neal Auction Company, the oldest family-owned auction business in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Clay saw the goodness in all people. He traveled vast distances for real estate work but the most significant journey of his life was being a devoted husband, father and family man. His greatest joy was spending time with his family and friends, fishing, watching sports, playing cards, being out on the water, traveling, grilling, listening to music, and ultimately loving the Earth where he stood. Clay shined his light brightly so we all could see what was most important in family, life and love.
The Neal family will have visitation on Thursday, June 8 from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home (320 West 7th Street).
A Celebration of Clay’s life will be conducted Friday, June 9, 2023 at 11:00 am at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home officiated by Father John Hays. Interment will follow at St. John’s Episcopal Church at Ashwood (US Route 43). Condolences may be extended online at www.oakesandnichols.com where there is a link to join the live stream of the service.
Pallbearers are Joe Kendall, Charles Bittick, Tim Parkison, Mike Perrin, David Dorsett, and Jonathan Owens.
Honorary pallbearers are Kirk Boone, Sean Doyle, Stephen Small, and Steve Dearing
In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Clay can be made to the KFC Foundation www.kfcfoundation.org, Habitat for Humanity www.habitat.org, Tunnel to Towers Foundation www.t2t.org and First Presbyterian Church www.1stprescolumbia.org.