Neil David Samuels of Doylestown, PA passed away on Friday, November 10, 2023. He was 65. He had suffered a stroke after undergoing biopsy surgery in December 2022 and worked bravely to recover and enjoy time with his family, his friends, and his bluebirds before peacefully passing away during the night in the home that he loved.
He was the beloved husband of 40 years to M. Brooke (Dockar Drysdale); devoted father of Benjamin J. Samuels (Nadine Malouf) and Oliver J. Samuels (Alexandra Wendt); dear brother of Geoffrey Samuels; loving brother-in-law of Sean Drysdale (April Rogowski), Barrie Drysdale (Karin Reiss) and Honor Jolliffe (Ben Jolliffe); treasured uncle of Nicholas and Rowan Drysdale, Sam Drysdale, George, Arlo and Rosa Jolliffe.
Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, Neil was adopted at birth and raised primarily in New York City by Nathaniel and Mary Samuels. Enrolled in some of the city’s top private schools, he charmed and infuriated his teachers and, he says, barely avoided expulsion before graduating. He then attended a series of New England prep schools (where he didn’t avoid expulsions!) and graduated from New Hampton in 1976. At Vassar College, he had a brilliant career as an actor and director in the Drama Department and received a Bachelor’s Degree in 1980. Neil’s tremendous energy, intelligence and ability allowed him to tap into the essence of a character and a play. He was fearless on stage, uplifted each project and the people around him, and mesmerized audiences with his performances.
Just as Neil was graduating from Vassar, he met Brooke at a campus screening of student films. Three years later, they married in England at her parents’ home. He worked for several years as an actor in New York City, skateboarding across the city while hanging onto the backs of buses to get to auditions and rehearsals, and then for a small film company which produced industrial and documentary films, including one for NASA and a pitch that took him to the workshops of Enzo Ferrari. It was during this time he began writing screenplays. Although he had avoided writing papers as a student, he wrote beautifully and continued to write poetry and prose until the last year of his life.
In 1988, he and Brooke, now a family with young Ben and in need of a bigger apartment, pulled up stakes and moved to a historic farmhouse in Doylestown. Neil threw himself into all things home, tractor and yard until there was nothing he couldn’t fix. He continued to write screenplays in his attic office but, ultimately, left Hollywood behind in order to provide for his family and serve his community. He covered township meetings and wrote articles for the Intelligencer and began a twenty-year career working in advertising and marketing at Timmons & Company where he helped clients figure out what they wanted to say. Neil had a gift for getting to the heart of the matter. When coaching his five-year-old son’s soccer team, he had one, simple instruction: ‘Run toward the ball!’ As they grew, his instruction became: ‘Shoot Where the Goalie Isn’t!’ During these years of coaching and attending school plays and concerts, directing backyard films starring his boys and their friends, and then appearing in films Ben and then Ben and Oliver made together, he also found his calling in local politics.
Neil didn’t believe any political candidate should run unopposed and ran for office in a heavily imbalanced district. In 2003, he and a group of like-minded individuals founded the Doylestown Democrats and he became its first Chair. In the decade that followed, he dedicated himself to local, county, state, and national politics and continued to work the polls each election day as committee person and poll watcher. He worked tirelessly to get the D-Dems up and running and encouraged other townships and boroughs in the county to do the same. He was argumentative, persuasive and wildly articulate, and he flourished in his role as advisor, mentor, and message-maker. He brought his intelligence and passion to State Committee meetings, to his longtime position as Executive Director and Deputy Chair of the Bucks County Democratic Committee, his role as an Obama Delegate to the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions and at countless fundraisers, galas and organizational meetings. He spoke beautifully and people listened to what he had to say. He encouraged countless people to run for office, then worked with them to find words for their ideas and develop their own voices.
In 2013, Neil was diagnosed with throat cancer and began radiation and chemotherapy. A ten-year battle with head-and-neck cancers followed and he underwent another round of treatments and surgeries in 2020. After putting his first cancer behind him in 2014, Neil decided to focus on a joyful life and returned to his earliest passions. He retired from his career in marketing as well as his official roles in politics (though he remained a ready guide and willing ally), and started acting and screenwriting again. He was a proud member of SAG-AFTRA, working in TV, Film, and Podcasts, and was elected to the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Chapter.
At the age of 58, Neil triumphed in locating his birth parents. He had worked doggedly over the years to piece together his story and finally connected with both sides of his biological family. He had always said that being adopted was like looking in the rearview mirror and seeing nothing there. Although his father had passed, his mother and two families of siblings welcomed him in and he suddenly became the eldest brother to a full sister and seven half-siblings. These relationships gave him a deeper understanding of himself and brought him tremendous pleasure. In the weeks before Neil’s passing, his biological family thanked him for finding them and for the research he did to tell them even more about where they came from and the stories they shared.
Neil enjoyed life immensely. He was smart and funny and devoted to his family. He took great pride in his sons’ accomplishments, whether it was Oliver’s on the rugby field, Ben’s filmmaking or, more recently, their joint efforts as creative partners. He adored golf and played often with Oliver, with whom he shared a love of sports and Fantasy Football. He relished travel and, in recent years, spent more and more time in the Berkshires with Brooke, enjoying nature, hiking and attending Tanglewood concerts.
Neil believed in going for the best parking spot and when he got it, he’d say to Brooke, ‘You’re in the lucky lane now, Baby!’ He believed he lived a lucky life and called himself a Faller-Upper. Adopted at birth, he went across the sea to live on Park Avenue; kicked out of one prep school, he got into a better one; and so it went. ‘Stick with me, Baby,’ he’d say, ‘This is life in the lucky lane!’ And so it was: a full and fortunate life which he lived wholeheartedly. He infuriated some and will be missed by many. More than anything, he was Neil. A Husband, a Dad, an Out-of-Town Party Boss. Someone who wanted to live a meaningful life, and did, in every way.
Cremation services were private under the direction of the Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home/Central Bucks Crematory, 344 North Main Street, Doylestown, PA 18901. Neil’s ashes will be buried at Doylestown Cemetery, close to Court Street, by his choosing, so he can keep an eye on the Memorial Day Parade.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Neil’s honor to The Heritage Conservancy, 85 Old Dublin Pike, Doylestown, PA 18901 https://heritageconservancy.org/donate/ or The League of Women Voters of Bucks County, P.O. Box 975 Doylestown, PA 18901 https://my.lwv.org/pennsylvania/bucks-county/donate.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, December 9th at 11:30 at Aldie Mansion, 85 Old Dublin Pike, Doylestown, PA 18901. Doors open at 11. All are welcome.
Please send condolences to www.varcoethomasfuneralhome.com.