James Nelson lived life his way
To his family, James Nelson was Don Quixote, so disarmingly unpredictable during his life the word “normal” probably never left his lips.
To his colleagues at The Union, Mr. Nelson was a great storyteller, a vegetarian connoisseur who presided over his employees with a loving, paternal air.
The Union’s home delivery manager for eight years, Mr. Nelson died Thursday after a long battle with cancer. He was 57.
Mr. Nelson was born on April 4, 1945, in San Francisco to Talmage and Virginia (Powell) Nelson.
He is remembered by friends and family as being unfailingly optimistic and fearless, traits that served him well when battling cancer on two occasions.
“He was one of these people that always had a twinkle in his eyes,” said Michelle King, a customer service representative at the newspaper.
Customer service manager Jennifer Glass agreed that Nelson – who served as a tour guide in Tibet for awhile, lived in a commune, and kept a climate-controlled room in his home dedicated to his beloved award-winning orchids – was one in a million.
“He led his life differently than most of us would have. He knew there was much more to life than working hard every day. He enjoyed coming to work here just so he could see his friends,” Glass said.
“He was well-liked by everybody in the company, one of those positive influences every company would like to have,” said Jeff Ackerman, publisher of The Union.
Glass and her colleagues delivered vegetarian meals to Mr. Nelson at his home in the Glenbrook Basin during his last days, since he and colleague Kimberly Bratton could no longer take long lunches at Nevada City’s toniest eateries.
Mr. Nelson, who started in the paper’s mailroom in 1994, was upbeat until the end – which befits a man who never could be molded.
Mr. Nelson met his wife, Dee, at the old Gold Bowl when a friend of hers suggested she approach him and ask him about some unusual attire he was wearing. It turns out that Mr. Nelson was wearing some musical underwear that played “Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night” and “White Christmas” every time he rolled a ball down the lane.
Of course, Dee Nelson didn’t believe her ears, and she knew she couldn’t possibly believe her eyes – until Mr. Nelson showed her the waistband of his underwear.
His future wife didn’t bat an eye.
“I just told him I thought he had a great sense of humor,” said Dee Nelson, whose passion for bowling instantly rubbed off on her husband.
This is from a guy who lived in an Oregon commune for several years and was penniless, trading for his livelihood. Once, when his sister Carol Collins visited him, he killed a rattlesnake that the two then ate.
After proposing to Dee Nelson on bended knee at a Reno Japanese restaurant, the two married on Dec. 4, 1999. They honeymooned at a nudist spa.
“I found that very much fun,” Dee Nelson said, who indulged her husband in his love for San Jose Sharks’ hockey and Oakland Raiders’ football.
James Nelson also spent time collecting Native American turquoise and art, and making jewelry as a result of his travels to India. He was involved in drag-racing in his younger days, ran a nursery near Chicago Park, and assembled and bound textbooks, keeping a few as diaries.
He was president of the Sacramento Orchid Society, regional director of the Northern California Phalanopsis Society and president of the Match Club Bowling Society of Grass Valley.
“He showed me places and things I’d never seen,” Dee Nelson said Monday. “He opened up my life to much wider horizons. I’m not afraid to try new things because of him.”
Mr. Nelson is survived by his wife, Dee; daughter, Theresa Gill of Crescent City; father, Talmage Nelson and mother, Virginia Nelson, both of Concord; sisters Judy Castillo and Carol Collins, both of Concord; and several nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his sister, LaDonna Todd.
Memorial services will be held Thursday at 2 p.m. at the L.O.V.E. building at Condon Park. Those planning to attend may bring finger foods or appetizers for a reception that will follow the service.
Memorial contributions can be made to the James Nelson Memorial Fund at the memorial service or at Citizens Bank, 11709 Sutton Way, Grass Valley.
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