Just past noon on April 5, 1968, the day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Boston was on the cusp of upheaval as those anguished by King’s slaying took to the streets. Roy E. Neblett was among the aides and department heads Mayor Kevin White summoned to City Hall to plan how to prevent the crowds’ anger from escalating into violence.
Just a few months earlier, only days after being inaugurated for his first term, White had announced three appointments to his personal mayoral staff, Mr. Neblett among them. And while nothing else during his tenure in White’s administration would match the tension of those early April days in 1968, Mr. Neblett spent more than eight years helping minorities gain entry to city government – initially as part of White’s staff, and then at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, where he worked as a personnel officer, as an equal opportunity officer, and in contract compliance.
“Roy was instrumental to getting a lot of doors open and giving access to a lot of minority contractors. A lot of people don’t know that,” said John Cruz, a businessman who formerly was president of the Contractors Association of Boston, a minority contractors organization.
Mr. Neblett, who went on to run his own accounting firm in Mattapan Square for decades, died Feb. 26 of complications from dementia. He was 86 and had lived in Randolph for many years.
“He was very quiet but determined, and he was unrelenting in opening up doors through the power of his office,” Cruz said. “He will be remembered by minority contractors as someone who really made a difference back in the ’70s.”
Mr. Neblett “was very supportive of people,” said Thomas Welch of Boston, who formerly chaired the board of Roxbury Community College and was part of Mr. Neblett’s circle of friends. “He was doing interesting things that we wanted to hear about, and he was interested in what we were doing. Roy was quite the man. By my definition, he certainly was a success. By a lot of definitions, quite frankly.”
During the years Mr. Neblett ran his accounting business in Mattapan Square, customers saw his name long before they stepped through the door into his office.
“He bought out the billboard above it so when you came into Mattapan Square it said ‘Roy Neblett’ in big letters,” recalled his son Toure of Brooklyn, N.Y. “He loved taking care of people and helping the black community there.”
Mr. Neblett’s wife, Patricia, who had worked with him at the business, said longstanding relationships with clients were a key component of his work.
“It’s important that they can trust you. You’re unveiling yourself to your accountants. They know more about you than your family knows,” she said.
Her husband, she added, “was a gentleman to everybody, so I think his clients all felt a personal relationship to him. I know sometimes when there would be a lot of people waiting in the office, I would say to someone, ‘Do you want to see another accountant?’ They would say, ‘Oh no, I just love Mr. Neblett. I’ll wait for him.’ ”
Mr. Neblett was such a gentleman that it came as little surprise to those who knew him well to learn the guys he hung out with while growing up in New York City had dubbed themselves “The Sophisticated Gents.”
The youngest of four brothers, Roy E. Neblett lived in Harlem and Brooklyn in his youth. He was young when his father, Lambert, died. Mr. Neblett was raised by his mother, Rose, a seamstress who later became a nurse. His father was from Barbados and his mother was from the Virgin Islands, and their household included extended family as well.
After serving stateside in the Army during the Korean War, Mr. Neblett moved to Boston in the mid-1950s. He studied accounting at Burdett College and also had attended Suffolk Law School.
He was studying at Suffolk when he and his future wife met through mutual friends. They married in 1967.
“He was always a perfect gentleman. A female could not want any better treatment from a man than what I got from Roy,” Pat Neblett said. “That was evident because they say if a man loves his mother he’s going to love his wife. His first concern was always, ‘Are you comfortable? Are you OK?’ ”
Mr. Neblett “considered marriage and his family to be his responsibility and he did what he could do to give us a comfortable existence together,” she added.
Their daughter, Dr. Meika Neblett, a physician who lives in Hoboken, N.J., said that “he and my mom were definitely best friends and showed us how a real relationship should be. He was extremely loving, extremely devoted to this woman.”
Mr. Neblett had run a White campaign office in Roxbury and before joining the mayor’s City Hall staff he had worked as a department store credit manager at Gilchrist’s and Filene’s.
“He was a very dapper dresser because he worked at Gilchrist’s,” said Barbara Cruz who, like her husband, John, is a longtime friend of the Nebletts. “He was a kind, gentle man, always upbeat.”
Toure, who hosts the “Toure Show” podcast, recalled that his father “was very cool. He was funny. He could be the life of the party at times. And being part of the community was very important to him.”
So was spending time on the tennis court. Mr. Neblett played for about 60 years and preferred singles almost to the exclusion of doubles.
“Family came first and tennis came second. But sometimes I wondered if we were on equal planes,” his wife said, laughing. “He played seven days a week, sometimes twice a day.”
A service has been held for Mr. Neblett, who in addition to his wife and two children leaves two grandchildren.
Mr. Neblett “was always looking for the next mountain to climb, always looking for the next better thing to do to help his family,” his daughter said.
“Roy loved life and life loved Roy. You could tell that,” Welch said. “He will be sorely missed, but when you think about him, you have good thoughts and he brings a smile to your face. You can talk about people succeeding in life, and I think Roy is the epitome of success.”
Much of that success, Mr. Neblett’s friends said, could be measured by how many people he assisted, first through his jobs in the White administration, and then while running his accounting business.
“He was a mentor to a lot of people,” John Cruz said. “I think that’s a testament to the man if someone says after you’re gone that you helped a lot of people, and he did. Roy certainly did that.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.