Obituary : Carabelle (Toni) B. Neil
Carabelle Blake Neil of East Chop died on April 5, at the age of 85. Carabelle, known as Toni, began visiting Martha's Vineyard in the 1950s for summer church services and concerts at the Oak Bluffs Episcopal Church and became a full-time resident in 1983. In 1967, she and her husband, George Franklin Neil, rescued an 1860 house that was scheduled to be torn down on the Vineyard Hospital grounds. The subsequent dramatic move of the house by Trip Barnes to its present location on East Chop was celebrated in a front-page article in the Vineyard Gazette.
Toni was born in New Haven, Conn. in 1922 and graduated in 1940 from the Emma Willard School, in Troy, N.Y., where she was the youngest girl ever to sing in the school choir. Also at Emma Willard, Toni began her lifelong association with the Northfield League, a yearly conference at the Northfield School about faith in daily life. She studied singing and conducting at the Juilliard School of Music, graduating in 1944. On Sept. 26, 1944, she married Frank, also a singer, whom she had met at Juilliard. She and her new husband, now a Naval Air Force pilot serving in the South Pacific, moved to San Francisco where set up housekeeping for the duration of the Second World War. After the war, the couple returned to the East, where they resumed their music careers in New York City, including singing professionally at St. Mark's in the Bowery, Calvary Church, and the Church of the Resurrection. Toni's choral work also involved many concerts and musical productions.
Toni earned a master's degree in English at Paterson State College, in New Jersey, where she wrote her thesis on the English poet William Morris, one of the founders of the British Arts and Crafts Movement and a leading fabric designer. Her professional work in New Jersey also included a long and happy period of using her lovely, trained voice to record printed material for the Princeton company, Recordings for the Blind.
As a full-time Vineyard resident, Toni continued her work with the organizations that engaged her lifelong interests. She was an active member of the Martha's Vineyard Garden Club, serving on their Board of Directors and writing reviews for the Vineyard Gazette of Garden Club activities. She was honored to represent the Garden Club at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibition, Art in Bloom. Spring found Toni at COMSOG (Community Solar Greenhouse) beginning the gardening work she loved. She and Frank in these years also began their intense involvement in community theater where Toni acted and sang in a variety of plays and musicals, including "My Fair Lady" and "Heidi." Toni continued her work in music as a member of the Community Chorus under the direction of Peter Boak and as a member of Abendmusik. She was a board member of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society and for decades wrote reviews of Island musical events for the Vineyard Gazette.
One of her greatest commitments was to Grace Church in Vineyard Haven, where she and Frank were active church members for many years. They were mainstays of the choir and loved helping out at Friday Night Lobster Dinners. Toni was a regular lay reader during church services and continued her lifelong enjoyment of flower arranging by serving on the Flower Guild.
A member of the Scottish Society on the Vineyard, Toni spent many years with Frank traveling to her much-loved Scotland and England, with side trips to France, Spain, Israel, and Egypt. She and Frank also spent many spring breaks in Bermuda for Frank's tennis tournaments.
She is survived by her daughters, Suzanne Chambliss Neil of Tenants Harbor, Maine, and Holly St. John Bergon of Highland, N.Y., her sister-in-law, Mina Watts, of Holmes, N.Y., her cousins Mary Caperton Smith, of Daniels, W.V., and James W. Banks, of Union, W.V., as well as nieces and nephews.
A memorial service for Toni Neil is planned for Saturday, May 17, at 2 pm, at Grace Church in Vineyard Haven, with her interment in the memorial garden immediately following the service. There will be a reception at the parish hall after the service and interment. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Community Chorus.