Knoxville News-Sentinel; Tennessee Press Association
Glenn McNeil, who served the Tennessee Press Association for more than three decades, will be forever known for opening public meetings and records for the people of Tennessee.
He was an advocate for passing three of the most influential bills in the state legislature regarding freedom of speech since Tennessee's first Constitution was written in 1870. As secretary-manager of TPA from 1947 to 1979, McNeil was its spokesman and lobbyist during some stormy sessions of the General Assembly. McNeil's influence in government led to the passing of the Open Records Act of 1957, the Freedom of Information Act of 1973, and the Open Meetings, or "Sunshine Law," of 1974.
Born in Knoxville in 1917, McNeil joined TPA after eight years of work with the Knoxville News-Sentinel and service in the Navy during World War II. Until his official retirement in 1979, he energetically promoted freedom of speech and became one of the most influential journalists in Tennessee history.
McNeil was sent by TPA to Nashville to watch over the meetings of the legislature and to see if any bills were being passed that might affect the press. His published observations, underscored by the threat of legislators to close meetings to the press, spawned the new openness in state government.
Although TPA had a relatively easy time getting the Open Records Act passed, it took nearly 20 years of hard work to establish an Open Meetings law. Several incidents regarding meeting closures in cities around Tennessee generated substantial publicity, and TPA was finally able to get the Sunshine Law introduced. The legislators scrutinized the bill and attempted several amendments, but the bill's supporters won the day.
McNeil's dedication to the Tennessee Press Association did not stop his being influential in such other areas as education and community action. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, McNeil once headed the Knoxville Extension Center, the first campus night school at UT. During his tenure, the press association, in collaboration with the University of Tennessee School of Journalism, established the Tennessee Newspaper Hall of Fame in 1966. In 1976 he assisted publishers in founding the Tennessee Press Association Foundation, designed to support the "advancement of a free press and the preservation of the people's rights under the First Amendment."
McNeil also participated in several national press organizations. He served as president of the national Newspaper Association Managers and was a director of American Newspaper Representatives. He also represented NAM on the board of directors of National Newspaper Association. In 1981 his efforts were recognized when he was honored by the East Tennessee Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at the Front Page Follies. A University of Tennessee journalism scholarship was named for him later that year.
Always active in his community, McNeil was a pillar of Central Baptist Church of Fountain City, and for 45 years he was a member of the Fountain City Lions Club. He was also a member of the board of directors of American Automobile Association and served as chairman of the Golden Grads of Central High School. After a two-year battle with Cancer, McNeil died in 1996. He left his wife of 59 years, Ercie McCarter McNeil, a son and two daughters, eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.