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J. Neil Utkov


1959 - 2017 Obituary Condolences Gallery
J. Neil Utkov Obituary
J Neil Utkov

Memphis, TN

J Neil Utkov, 58, died on Saturday, July 15, at his home in Memphis, Tennessee, after a courageous year- long battle with cancer. He died much the way he lived – fearlessly, ever ready for the next adventure, and surrounded by family members who love him fiercely.

A native Memphian, Neil was born on March 10, 1959, to Lida Sellers Utkov and Edmund Utkov. He graduated from Memphis University School in 1977 and completed his doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. Post-doctoral studies were completed at The Animal Medical Center in New York City and the University of Missouri at Columbia. Neil served as a member of the Memphis, Shelby County, and Tennessee Veterinary Medical Associations.

Neil loved the outdoors. His passion for animals and wildlife was reflected in both his work and his leisure activities. He founded Pet Health Center – his veterinary practice and life's work – in 1989 and, that same year, volunteered for 6 months as a staff veterinarian with the Wildlife Rescue Organization in Valdez, Alaska, in response to the disastrous Exxon oil spill. He continued his work in caring for sick and injured wildlife by serving as a volunteer rehabilitator with the Tennessee Wildlife Animal Resource Agency for most of his career.

In 1988, Neil married his high school sweetheart and the light of his life, Jennilyn Jennings. The two lived their 42 years of friendship and 29 years of marriage to the fullest, raising two exceptional sons – George and Nate – and opening their doors on countless occasions to any of God's creatures (animal and human alike) who needed a place to call home. Neil instructed his family in the art of telling jokes and stories, infusing the Utkov household with the ever-present gifts of laughter and light.

Whether fishing with his boys, cooking for family and friends, taking evening walks with his wife, dogs and a rehabbed crow, or staring out across Mississippi's Moon Lake, Neil spent as much time as possible soaking up the beauty of creation. His tirelessness and fiercely persistent spirit were tempered by his sense of wonder and his care and respect for all life.

Neil upheld the belief that those who participate in this life with an attitude of compassion will receive its full promise, and he approached opportunity and challenge with a spirit of loving kindness. He is beloved and remembered for his energy, charisma, outrageous sense of humor, determination, unconditional love and acceptance of friends, and a natural instinct to charge head-first toward adventure. We may carry his legacy forward by abandoning the search for security and certainty in this world and remembering not to take ourselves too seriously.

Neil is survived by his wife, Jennilyn Jennings Utkov; his sons, George and Nate Utkov; siblings, Gary Utkov (Carol), Mark Utkov (Nancy), Jennifer Kruchten (Lance) and Deborah Matthews; sixteen nieces and nephews; his constant canine companions, Silver and Sailor; and a far-reaching sea of friends, fishing buddies, clients and colleagues, who adored him universally and absolutely. He was preceded in death by his parents, Edmund and Lida Sellers Utkov, and his brother, Bruce Utkov.

A memorial service for Neil will take place on Friday, July 21, at 2:30 p.m. at Church of the Holy Communion, 4645 Walnut Grove Road, Memphis, Tenn.

In lieu of flowers, Neil requested that loved ones honor his memory with donations to the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County.
Published in The Commercial Appeal on July 19, 2017
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