Fred Neikirk passes away at 80

·6 min read

Sep. 6—Longtime former county attorney Fred "Freddy" Neikirk has passed away following an illness.

Born in Somerset, Neikirk served in Korea for 11 months. He drove a tank and remained proud of his service until he died.

Afterward, he worked his way through law school at the University of Kentucky as a short-order cook and spent time with his lifelong friend John Prather.

Just three years out of law school, Neikirk was elected County Attorney and held the position for nearly 30 years.

Prather had known Neikirk for 50 years and served as a defense attorney while Neikirk served as a prosecutor.

Prather admired Neikirk and valued his sense of humor, and called him a "big character."

Said Prather, "We were friends. Were there times that we disagreed? Of course, there were times where we disagreed. But it was never anything that you couldn't go into the hallway and laugh about after."

Prather also appreciated Neikirk's military service.

"He was always taking great pride in the fact that he was in the army, and he should have. He deserved that," said Prather. Though, he did take this time to mention the odd sense of humor that the two shared.

"He was a fairly plump fella at the time, and we used to kid him a lot about whether or not he could get in the tank," he said and laughed.

"Anybody who knew Freddie liked him," added Prather.

Said Prather, "One day, he bought a new green suit. He came to court and walked into court and Judge (Bill) Cain looked at him and said 'My Goodness, it's a giant pickle.' He had this suit that he was so proud of. From then on, if we wanted to get a hold of him, we'd call and say 'Can we speak to the pickle?'"

It should be noted that Judge Cain disagreed Prather's version of events.

"John Prather said it. I'd swear on it," Cain said and laughed. "Judges don't lie. Lawyers do."

Regardless of who first called Neikirk a giant pickle, Cain did agree with Prather on the kind of man Neikirk was.

Cain and Neikirk grew up together, and Cain recalls the two trading comics with each other as boys.

Cain shared Prather's admiration for Neikirk and felt he could depend on him if he needed help. Cain said he was told when he first began as a lawyer, "Always take Freddie's recommendation, because he always knew what he was doing."

A word repeated over and over by those who loved Neikirk was "heart."

Said Cain, "He was smart, and he had a kind and wonderful heart. He cared about people."

Said Prather, "He had a great sense of humor and a big heart."

Cain said one of his favorite memories was the day that Neikirk's daughter got married.

Cain said, "One day, Freddie came to me and said, 'Bill, you're going to perform a marriage this afternoon. I said, 'I am?' and he says, 'And we're doing it at your house.' I said, 'We are?'"

Cain said Neikirk and his assistants threw together the wedding on a whim and said it was one of the most beautiful weddings he'd ever officiated.

"He was a very spontaneous kind of guy," said Cain.

Prather called Cain, Neikirk's best friend in the final years of his life and the pair spent a lot of time together watching sports. Cain recalled Neikirk's love for flowers and gardening. Neikirk also loved studying and reenacting battles of the American Civil War, about which Neikirk read "everything he could get his hands on."

Judge Scott Lawless also enjoyed the time he spent with Neikirk and worked under him for many years. A neighbor of his as a child, Lawless recalled Neikirk being a partial inspiration of his decision to pursue the law.

"He was one of the only lawyers I knew growing up in Somerset," said Lawless.

Lawless called Neikirk a mentor and shared Prather's and Cain's love for Neikirk and described him as charitable and caring.

"He was a very good person to work for. He was very generous to the people who worked for him. Very kind. He was very hands-on and good about giving us instruction. I was fortunate in that regard learning from him," said Lawless. "Great sense of humor. Everybody that knew him knew he had a great sense of humor. Just a lot of fun to work for."

Former police chief David Gilbert also had fond memories of Neikirk and shared Lawless' view of him as a mentor. He remembered the day they first met when Gilbert knocked on his door at 12 midnight to get a search Warrant signed.

"It was after midnight at his home in Burnside. I was a young patrol officer back in 1977, and I knocked on his door. He came to the door and said, 'This better be good,'" he said, laughing as he remembered. "Everybody loved Fred. Fred had a big heart for everybody. He supported the police, but he also supported the people."

Gilbert said Neikirk helped him as a young officer as he learned the ropes of the court system. He said he gained all his experience of testifying in court from Neikirk.

In keeping with others who spoke about him, Gilbert loved Neikirk's sense of humor.

Said Gilbert, "Fred had a sense of humor. If [The Commonwealth Journal] took my picture when I was police chief, he would save it and cut it out, then he would write me a letter telling me how bad it was."

Gilbert told of another time when Neikirk filed a fake lawsuit against him.

Gilbert received a 20-page file about how one of his officers had violated someone's civil rights. Not knowing what to do, Gilbert went to the mayor's office and read over the suit while waiting for him to finish his meeting.

Gilbert said, "It was on a traffic stop with one of my dog handlers. Supposedly [the dog] scratched this guy and scratched his car to pieces, and it just didn't sound right. Then I got to looking and the jurisdiction was in Miami. I don't have any jurisdiction in Miami!"

It was at this moment Gilbert realized the suit was a hoax.

"He was leaning against the wall laughing at me," said Gilbert. "He talked about that for years."

Gilbert loved Neikirk and enjoyed his even temper.

"He loved people, and I can't recall really ever seeing him angry. He had a talent for not getting angry," he said. "I don't know what I would have done without Fred Neikirk as a new 21-year-old police officer."

Gilbert referred to Neikirk as a hard worker and said he was "always busy." He remembered his favorite memory of Neikirk which was Gilbert's retirement dinner which he planned and threw.

Overall, everybody who knew Neikirk called him a good man, a loving friend, a funny guy, and someone with a big heart.

Arrangements are pending and will be announced later by Pulaski Funeral Home.