She was born Finneatter Irene Braithwaite, but as she grew up and lived most of her life in Atlantic City, hardly anybody knew her by that odd first name. To most people, she was Neat.
Her formal name got longer in the late 1950s, when she married George F. Smith. He was an Alabama native who, when he got to Atlantic City, worked for the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and drove a jitney, among performing other jobs. He died in 1997, almost 40 years after she became Finneatter Irene Braithwaite-Smith.
They had no children — and Neat told a niece, Eunice Clarke, of Atlantic City, that she had no regrets about that. She enjoyed the kids in her neighborhood, Bungalow Park, and “Aunt Neat” stayed devoted to her 10 nieces and nephews until she died last month, at 92.
She loved her hometown, but she never minded traveling. During World War II, she joined the U.S. Army and was stationed at first in Texas, as a cook in a segregated military era. But later, Neat was sent back to Atlantic City and England General Hospital — which the historic building now known as Resorts Casino Hotel became during the war. Her duties there included teaching typing to wounded veterans.
She believed in education — she attended Howard, Virginia State and West Virginia State universities, and earned a master’s degree in sociology.
She became a social worker for several agencies, and ended her career working for Atlantic County. Clarke, her niece, says Aunt Neat’s greatest job skill was encouraging people to improve themselves — to do things even they didn’t believe they could do. But because she believed in them, she was often right.
She was devoted to her church, St. Augustine’s Episcopal, in her hometown. And church wasn’t the only place where Neat lived up to her lifetime nickname.
“She was definitely three times a lady,” says a friend, Gloria McWhorter, who inherited 10 or so of Neat’s old-school, high-quality hats, and took dozens more to St. Augustine’s, where “those church ladies were thrilled” to be able to pick some of her hats for themselves.
But she was a quiet activist, too. Ermie Clarke, 70, her niece and caretaker in recent years, remembers traveling to Paris with Aunt Neat in 1963. On the way home, Neat decided on a detour — to join Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, where the civil-rights leader delivered his legendary “I Have A Dream” speech.
Ermie remembers they were late to the march, but they got to join the crowd and feel the energy. And Neat stayed active: The doting, proper aunt, who believed in gifts for almost any occasion, liked to give her nieces and nephews a standard present — an annual membership to their local NAACP chapter.
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