Neil Cronin, former owner of John - Zeke's in Healdsburg, dies at 51

Neil Cronin, the popular former owner of John - Zeke's Bar in Healdsburg, has died. He was 51.

Cronin's family said he died April 18 at his Healdsburg home after a nearly yearlong battle with cancer.

Cronin, a New Jersey native who moved to Healdsburg in the late 1990s, had become a town fixture as the proprietor and often bartender at John - Zeke's, a major supporter of the Boys - Girls Club and a volunteer coach with Healdsburg High's track and field team.

"If you were his friend, he was loyal to you forever," said Mark Gleason, a close friend and former mayor of Healdsburg who met Cronin the day he opened John - Zeke's in 1997. "And everybody was a friend of Neil's."

Cronin was managing a Planet Hollywood when he and a partner bought the landmark Healdsburg bar, which under various incarnations had been located on a prime spot on the historic Healdsburg Plaza since it first opened in 1933.

But two years ago, the building sold. Cronin was faced with having to close the bar by October of last year. Cronin, who retained the John - Zeke's name and its fixtures, was coordinating the bar's move to a new location when he was diagnosed with advanced throat cancer in July.

"He knew it was bad from the beginning; we all did," said Rob Lippincott, the chef/owner of Parish Cafe who was among many business owners who called Cronin a mentor and friend. "He said he was going to fight and he fought it hard, but he also taught us a lesson in how to face this with grace and dignity."

Cronin was credited with helping to save the local chapter of the Boys and Girls' club when it was having financial difficulties in the late '90s.

A high school pole vaulter, Cronin shared his expertise as a volunteer coach for the Healdsburg High track team, where he was beloved as much for his teaching skills as his personality.

The team had T-shirts made that read "Everything with a smile" to honor Cronin, said head coach Chris Puppione.

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