Neal O’Steen, the youngest of seven brothers and sisters, was born in 1919 and grew up in Bedford County, Tennessee. He attended a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade before going to Forrest High School in Church Hill, from which he graduated in 1937. He briefly sold Bibles door-to-door in eastern Ohio, worked as a dishwasher and custodian at a Detroit restaurant, worked on a farm in Detroit, and was an employee in a meatpacking company in Nashville before joining the navy in January 1941. He served as a hospital corpsman.
When he was discharged from active duty (he remained in the reserves) he entered UT in the fall of 1947, choosing UT over Vanderbilt because of UT’s journalism program. He graduated from UT in 1950, having been a member of three honor societies, one of which was Phi Kappa Phi. While in school, he worked as a student assistant in the news bureau. After graduation he joined the staff of the Kingsport Times-News as a police reporter but was recalled to active duty in the Korean Conflict four months later. He returned to the Kingsport paper in 1952 and served as managing editor from 1952 to 1955. He then worked on a Norfolk newspaper for two years, until he was offered the position of editor of the UT News Bureau.
He served as editor for the News Bureau, director of publications, assistant director of public relations, and acting director of public relations. In 1962 he initiated publication of the Torchbearer, while continuing to edit and write for the Alumnus. His passion was history—particularly of UT—and he wrote articles about it and amassed photographs. He also wrote Tennessee Partners, the history of the Alumni Association, incorporating a great deal of institutional historical information. He wrote responses to letters received by President Holt and President Boling and wrote a few speeches for Holt and many for Boling.
He retired from UT in 1985, the same year that his national history of Phi Kappa Phi (Making Heroes of Scholars: The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi 1791–1983) was published. He volunteered to edit the newsletter of the UT Retirees’ Association from 1990 to 2000, when he moved to Nashville.