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‘Father’ of Mesquite Rodeo Dies, 96

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Neal Gay at a rodeo. | Image by Ben Sklar, 117015 via The Dallas Morning News

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Neal Gay, known as “the father” of the Mesquite Rodeo, died on Thursday at the age of 96. 

“Neal was a truly legendary rodeo leader who played a pivotal role at the #FWSSR for decades. His legacy lives on through his hardworking and dedicated family,” tweeted Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo organizers.


The Mesquite Championship Rodeo, one of the most well-liked events in the business, was started by Gay in 1958. It began as a small Saturday night production and became a cultural must-watch televised event enjoyed by millions. 

Born in 1926, Gay grew up in Dallas, riding bulls, saddling broncos, and wrestling steers. He was first introduced to the rodeo in 1945. He eventually stopped competing and moved behind the scenes due to his knack for stock contracting and rodeo production. 

He founded the company Rafter G Rodeo in 1957. It is still held in Gay’s family and continues to dominate the Texas rodeo scene three generations later.

Gay’s three sons have the rodeo in their blood too. Don Gay is an eight-time PRCA Bull Riding World Championship winner. Pete Gay qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in 1972, 1973, and 1976. For his part, Jim Gay runs the family’s rodeo stock business.

“He would always say, ‘God was first, family was a close second, and the rodeo was right in after that,'” said Jim Gay. “He loved rodeo and his bucking horses and bulls. One of his best things he used to say was that he lived a blessed life because he gets to wake up every day and be a cowboy.”

Neal Gay died at his ranch in Terrell, Texas. A memorial is planned for August 23 at 1:00 p.m. at Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth. 

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