William Neff certainly did his share of fence building in South Florida over the years.
His handiwork has encircled Ocean Reef’s Porpoise Pen in the Keys and provided underwater fencing for a former University of Miami marine research facility in Pigeon Key.
Many a backyard and paddock in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties has gotten the Neff touch, as well as clients that include the city of Aventura, Southern Wine and Spirits, Sysco and Sunshine Industrial Park in Clearwater.
In 1967, he founded the Bill Neff Fence Company. When he built a fence for Jacqueline Garvey, he captured her heart.
“We met when I moved down from New York,” she said. “I had two children, 9 and 10, and I thought the best way to raise them would be with animals. I wanted to start a horse farm and needed him to build fences around the paddocks.”
The couple later married and had been together for 47 years when Neff died May 22, at age 95, at their Pembroke Pines home.
“He was a big man and that’s one reason I married him,” she said. “I could look around the room and see him right away. I never lost sight of him.”
Friends called Neff, who stood 6-foot, 4-inches, Big Bill.
“He didn’t know any strangers. He was so outgoing and friendly and he loved parties. He never changed. At 95, he was still doing crossword puzzles in ink,” his wife said.
Neff, who loved all ball sports and fishing in the Keys, was born in Alliance, Ohio and attended Kent State University and Harvard Business School.
He met his first wife, Alita (Lee) Boecker, mother of his six children, at Kent.
In 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Neff enlisted in the Army as a private. In 1944, he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant when he transferred to the Air Force. He remained active in the reserves, until 1957.
But that ingrained patriotism remained. “He loved the veterans,” his wife said. “I’ve seen him cross the street to shake a vet’s hand.”
While married to Alita, Neff moved the family to Miami in 1957. Eight years later he was appointed Dania City Manager. He also served in the America Legion and Elks and Lions in South Miami.
The CB radio craze in the mid-1970s that led to a movie and a No. 1 pop single, both named Convoy, and even a CB-fancying Playboy Playmate of the Year, caught Neff’s fancy, too. But Neff, whose handle was Barbwire — because of his fence company, of course — used the CB to become an early type of road ranger.
“We took turns at night monitoring the channel people used then if they were in trouble or lost,” his wife Jacquie said. Neff would pinpoint where the people were and suggest routes or call for help.
The couple loved traveling, particularly to Hedonism, a popular resort in Negril, Jamaica where they vacationed more than 55 times over the years.
“Half of it is nude, half of it is prude,” his wife joked. “It was like our second home. We had a wonderful time. It was a place where you could just be yourself.”
Neff requested that his ashes be spread at Hedonism’s Memorial Garden. Donations may be made to any of the American Veteran’s charitable organizations, the family said.
In addition to his wife — and ex-wife, with whom he remained close — Neff is survived by children Patricia, Michael, Susan and William, six grandchildren and four great grandchildren.