James Willis Neighbours of West Caldwell, New Jersey, formerly of Southampton, died on December 10 at Hackensack University Medical Center. He was 96.
Mr. Neighbours was born in California on May 9, 1917, to James Edward and Ethel Hollenback Neighbours. He was the youngest of six children and the only boy in the family. The family struggled through many business difficulties and his parents died when he was still a teen; Mr. Neighbours worked to make his way in the world. He earned an associate’s degree in mathematics and engineering from the San Bernardino Junior College in California. He later received a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical and industrial engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and did one-year of graduate work toward a master’s in meteorology and aeronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He later took graduate courses in business administration at the University of Pittsburgh.
Mr. Neighbours was a military officer, retiring from the U.S. Navy after 21 years of active duty, retiring with the rank of commander. He served as an aeronautical engineering duty officer and was assigned as meteorologist on aircraft carriers during World War II. After the war, he was a test pilot for the U.S. Navy. With the Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C., he coordinated technical and flight test problems common to various naval aircraft. As the Navy representative to the Bureau of Naval Weapons in Bethpage, he supervised personnel in the field administration of government contracts dealing with research, design, development, production and testing of various weapon systems, aircraft, space vehicles and electronic equipment.
After the Navy, he was hired as the president and CEO of Agawam Aircraft Products Inc., an aircraft manufacturing company in Sag Harbor. The company was purchased later by Grumman Aerospace Corporation and he was made plant manager. Mr. Neighbours went to work for Eastern Airlines after Grumman sold the plant.
Mr. Neighbours held several leadership roles in the community, including president of the Eastern Long Island Retired Officers Club, vice president of the Southampton School Board, vice president of the Early Flyers Club, member of the Educational Council of MIT, and chairman of the finance committee of the United Methodist Church in Southampton.
He was married to Ruth Benner Hall on February 9, 1946; she died at the age of 50 in 1974. He later married Elizabeth Bean, who predeceased him in 2008.
Survivors said he was a remarkable person with an always positive attitude and a big smile, and that he brought sunshine to everyone he met.
Mr. Neighbours is survived by his three children, Marcia Kuechenmeister of Iowa, James Neighbours and wife Robin of Massachusetts, and Janet Silverstein and husband Barry of New Jersey; six grandchildren, John Kuechenmeister, Leslie Kuechenmeister and husband Pat O’Brien, Christopher and Nicholas Neighbours, and Jennifer and Michelle Silverstein; and two great-grandchildren, Matthew and Logan O’Brien.
The family received friends on December 16 at the Brockett Funeral Home in Southampton. A graveside service followed at Southampton Cemetery; the Reverend Jack K. King officiated.