Neal O’Farrell was born in Ireland in 1961 and soon realized that in order to live the best possible life, he might have to do absolutely nothing.
He expected to be the third generation to take over a famous family weaving business whose customers read like a who’s who of the world’s rich and famous, from Coco Chanel and Yves St. Laurent to the Duchess of Westminster and the Queen Consort of Siam. Along with with a 300-year-old self-sustained estate, a functioning farm, a substantial art collection, and a handful of servants.
But when the fine craft of weaving delicate gossamer tweed was extinguished by Americans in polyester, Neal was left with no choice. At the age of seventeen, in the middle of the night, he ran away from home and spent the next six months wandering through Europe and ending up in Morocco in North Africa.
His destination was Casablanca – he was obsessed with Humphrey Bogart movies – but he only made it as far as Rabat and had to sneak aboard the Marrakesh Express and ride it back to Paris without a ticket. His family has always had distant and tenuous connections to the movies. His grand uncle, author Michael Farrell, produced Maureen O’Hara’s first movie, Some Say Chance, in 1934. And his cousin, Michelle Dockery, played Lady Mary Crowley in Downton Abbey.
Less than two years after he returned, Neal found himself accidentally witnessing the birth of a brand new industry that would later be called computer security. Over the next four decades he rose to become one of the top cybersecurity experts, advising multiple governments and winning multiple awards.
In the tradition of the Irish Immigrant, Neal came to America by boat, helping deliver a brand new yacht in the middle of Winter, across the Atlantic from France, via West Africa, to the Virgin Islands.
For most of his life, Neal was also consumed by a trifecta of mental illnesses that weren’t diagnosed until he was in his late twenties. In his late fifties, after a close call with suicide, he decided to end his cybersecurity career for good and focus instead on a new passion, mental health. His own and others.
He now leads some of the country’s most ambitious mental health initiatives. He’s leading the creation of a mental health action cluster as part of the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Global City Teams Challenge, to explore how IoT and smart cities can improve the mental health of their residents.
He created Get A Grip, one of the largest libraries of short videos on the science behind mental health. And he leads the nonprofit Mynde Project, to provide free mental health education websites to cities across America. He’s married to Cathy from Cincinnati, has a three-legged, one-eyed dog called Finegas, rescued in Los Angeles, and a four-legged, two-eyed dog called Pogue rescued in Oakland in Northern California.