The family will hold a “Celebration of Life’’ memorial service for Dick on April 18th at 11am at the New Bridge Baptist Church in Asheville, NC followed by a light lunch reception afterwards.
Richard was the youngest of 6 children (one girl and five boys) born to Harry and Ruth Nelson. He grew up in the small town of Forest City, Iowa and attended Waldorf and Luther colleges where he majored in biology and minored in religion and art.
After college, he was drafted into the Army and did his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He was assigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. where he began his scientific career, focusing on the effects of radiation. He met his wife Nancy at a young people’s church group while he was still in the Army and she was a student nurse. They married in the summer of 1967 and enjoyed exploring our Nation’s Capital, as well as traveling with their pop-up camper. They bought their first home in Rockville, MD and had a daughter, Jennifer, in 1974.
Once his military obligations were fulfilled, he embarked on chromosome research at the National Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC on a March of Dimes grant. For the next ten years, he worked at National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland where he co-authored many scientific papers on potential carcinogens, the effects of certain chemicals on chromosomes (ie, Benzapyrene) and the potential therapeutic use of Methotrexate in the treatment of cancer. He also presented his work several times at the American Tissue Culture Association meetings.
The appeal of the Midwest drew Richard and Nancy to Minnesota, where their son Matthew was born in 1978. Dick continued to pursue his research at the University of Minnesota. He authored many papers and presented at the Mutation Research National Meetings on topics including chemical, environmental, and pesticide hazards. His free time was spent as a renaissance man: nurturing a B/W photography hobby, making pizzas and soups from scratch, gardening, and working on DIY home projects. He also liked to spend time boating, fishing and riding his bike at the family lake cabin in northwest Wisconsin - one blustery winter, he even attempted ice fishing!
Having endured many long and cold Minnesota winters, he jumped at the chance to retire to Florida in 2010, and quickly adapted to the warm and sunny climate. There he rekindled his early love of art and took up painting vivid watercolors - many featuring his favorite subject, lighthouses. Most afternoons you could find him in his “artist’s studio” listening to big band or jazz music and searching Google images for artistic inspiration. Some of his favorite Florida travels were to the Ringling and Dali art museums, and two memorable trips to St. Augustine – where he once climbed all 216 steps to the top of the lighthouse! He also enjoyed taking walks along the ocean, often collecting seashells along the way.
Dick had a great sense of humor and especially liked telling the Scandinavian Sven, Ole and Lena jokes. He loved to sit down and chat with family and friends over a cup of coffee and a sweet pastry. Besides his love of family and art, he always had a lifelong curiosity for the study of nature and history.
He was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer in January 2013 and received treatment at the University of Florida in Gainesville as part of a clinical trial. He was in remission for the last seven months of 2014 before passing away peacefully at home on the evening of February 5th, 2015 surrounded by family. He is survived by his wife Nancy, daughter Jennifer (Matt Keating), son Matthew, and a granddaughter that is due in early March.
Although he will be deeply missed, he left us with many wonderful memories and amusing stories to share. His spirit will live on in our hearts and minds forever. We welcome you to pay tribute to Dick by sharing your favorite memories and/or photos of him.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in his honor to your favorite charity or:
Hospice of Citrus and the Nature Coast: hospiceofcitrus.org/
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network: pancan.org/
Fisher House: fisherhouse.org/