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Community will honor longtime tennis advocate Bernard Neal on Oct. 6

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The late Bernard Neal was one of the leading advocates for tennis in Rome for decades. Friday, a stylish new clock named the Bernard Neal Memorial Clock, will be dedicated to his memory at the new Rome Tennis Center at Berry College, a facility Neal was instrumental in bringing to Rome.

Neal was not only active in the Rome tennis community, but was also a leader of the Georgia Tennis Foundation, the Georgia Tennis Association and the Southern Tennis Association. He was inducted into the Rome Floyd Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Georgia Tennis Hall of Fame in 2001.

“Bernard was the first one to talk about a big tennis complex in Rome,” said Billy Thornton

Thornton said he and Neal initially looked at the General Electric property that GE was in the process of deeding to the city. “Bernard Lisa Smith and I began to meet about this pie in the sky complex. A few days after the story hit the paper, Danny Price, the house lawyer for Berry, called and wanted us to meet with him,” Thornton said. In July 2016, the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College opened and in its first year of operation has made a huge impact on tennis in Rome, Georgia and the Southeast.

Emily Saltino, a former president of the Rome Rotary Club, said Neal always considered the tennis center to be an economic development tool for the community. “He knew tennis players don’t come to these large tournaments for just one day. He said this can be an industry for Rome,” Saltino said.

The clock was originally supposed to be part of a contribution to the community to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Rome Rotary Club in 2014. Neal served on Saltino’s committee for that event and she said he was deeply disappointed that they could never agree on a site for the clock three years ago. After his death in May of this year, it was decided the tennis center would be a perfect location.

Even before the massive center was built, Neal led fundraising efforts for the 16-court downtown tennis center, which opened next to Barron Stadium in 1992. That same year Rome was named one of the top ten tennis communities in America by Tennis magazine.

The dedication ceremony for the $30,000 timepiece is set for 6 p.m. Friday night. Saltino said all of the tennis organizations contributed to the fundraising campaign along with members of the Neal family and friends. “I really hope that just about anyone who has set foot on a tennis court in Rome will come out,” Saltino said. “Bernard had a hand in just about all of them.”