What is the Neeleman family legacy with regard to Brazil and Latin America?
I went to Brazil on an LDS mission when I was twenty years old. When I got the call to go to Brazil, I was flabbergasted. Rose was my girlfriend at the time. We both had to look Brazil up in the encyclopedia.
It took me twenty-three days to get there, because in those days no airplane traveled to Brazil. I went to New York and traveled down by boat. I stayed there two years and nine months. There was one mission and nineteen hundred members of the Church in all of Brazil.
When I stepped off the plane almost three years later in Los Angeles, Rose claims I said to her, “Will you go back to Brazil with me?”
She said, “You just got home.”
I said, “I’m not finished there.”
After I had been home for sixteen months, working for KSL and the Deseret News while I finished school in journalism at the University of Utah, I got a call from United Press International (UPI). They said, “We had a guy in Brazil who met you and said you were interested in going back to Brazil. We have no Portuguese-speaking correspondents.” UPI had ten thousand international correspondents, and none of them spoke Portuguese.
They flew out their vice president from Argentina, and he met me at the Hotel Utah. He asked me all kinds of questions and then said, “Now I want to talk to [your wife,] Rose,” and he asked her all kinds of questions.
Finally he stood up and said, “As far as I’m concerned, I’ll see you in São Paulo, Brazil, in October.”
Rose looked at me like she’d just been shot. Our baby, John, was only two months old. We went to Brazil.
I was the writer—the correspondent—for UPI in São Paulo. A month later, after they found a discrepancy in the books, I also became the bureau chief. I was twenty-three years old. There were twenty-five people in the bureau, because we did
n’t only cover the news but translated the entire UPI news report. They all thought, “Who is this crazy gringo that’s coming in here to take over?” Most of them had been with UPI longer than I was alive. Gradually I gained their confidence, and they all became dear friends.