Remembering David Nelson
In 2015, Bridge of Hope National was honored to receive a gift through the estate of David B. Nelson, Ph.D., of Silver Spring, MD.
We are grateful to God for David’s life and for David and Kathy’s generous Legacy of Hope planned gift to Bridge of Hope. Their gift will help – for years to come – to end homelessness for single mothers and children across the U.S. and Canada.
We celebrate David’s distinguished life and legacy.
David B. Nelson, Ph.D., a distinguished scientist and research manager, died peacefully at his home in Silver Spring, MD on August 22, 2014 after courageously battling lymphoma for 11 months. He was the author of numerous papers in electrical engineering, plasma physics, computational science and research policy. He received the President’s Rank Award for superior managerial performance twice, in 1989 and in 1996, and the Department of Energy’s Meritorious Service Award.
He is survived by his brother, Dowlan of Durham, NC; his wife of 50 years, Kathryn Puester Nelson of Silver Spring; two children, Mark Nelson (and his wife, Judy Leatherman) of Fort Collins, CO and Laura Chadwick of Falls Church, VA; and three grandchildren, Lucas and Katrina Nelson and Ellen Chadwick.
Dr. Nelson retired from the Federal government as a member of the Senior Executive Service in 2005, after 26 years as a federal civil servant. During his last three years he directed the National Coordination Office for Information Technology Research and Development (NCO-ITRD) in the Executive Office of the President. This office coordinates planning, budget, and assessment activities for federally funded research in information technology across more than a dozen Federal agencies. Dr. Nelson was pleased to finish his career in this position because he had long been involved in interagency planning for ITRD. In the early 1990’s he co-chaired the working group that developed and implemented the President’s Next Generation Internet initiative. He then led the interagency working group that developed the President’s High Performance Computing and Communications initiative and chaired the White House committee that implemented it, in part by establishing the NCO-ITRD.
David Nelson was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1940, the son of Carl Leroy Nelson, a professor of economics, and Charlotte Butler Nelson. He lived in Minneapolis, MN from 1947 until 1958, when he graduated from St. Thomas Military Academy in St. Paul. His experiences as an Eagle Scout, studying piano, and an American Field Service student in Denmark spurred his lifelong love of nature, music, and foreign travel.
David received his A.B. cum laude from Harvard University in 1962, majoring in engineering sciences. While at Harvard, he met his wife, Kathy, and greatly enjoyed his art, language, and music courses. His facility with languages was lifelong: although he spoke German best from graduate mathematics study in Munich and Berlin, he spoke several additional languages, including French, Spanish, and some Japanese and Russian.
By 1967, David’s graduate study at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University brought him M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics. Dr. Nelson started work as a research scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1966. There he mainly studied theoretical plasma physics and its applications to controlled fusion energy. He also worked in environmental and defense research. In Oak Ridge, David headed the Civic Music Association and acted in several plays. He and Kathy were members of Grace Lutheran church, enjoyed white-water canoeing, and frequently hiked in the Smokies with their children and friends.
Between 1979 and 1999, Dr. Nelson worked in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Washington DC. Beginning as chief of theoretical fusion physics research, he next directed the Office of Applied Plasma Physics, and then a new Office of Computational and Technology Research. During the 1990s, he served as Associate Director of the Office of Energy Research and as Chief of Staff for Energy Research, where he was responsible for operational programs in technology transfer, the Energy Sciences computer network, and many other scientific initiatives.
He and his family enjoyed sailing on the Chesapeake Bay and many opera, concert and ballet performances at the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institution. Dave was long-time member of Christ Lutheran Church in Bethesda, serving there as both vice-president and president. He became a member of the Cosmos Club in 1991.
From 1999 to 2002, Dr. Nelson was Deputy Chief Information Officer of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), with primary responsibilities for agency-wide cyber security and scientific and technical computing. Here he developed NASA’s cyber security program and helped NASA earn one of the highest grades in the early years of the Government Information Systems Reform Act.
In retirement, David pursued his multiple interests through building computers, woodworking, book clubs, travel throughout the world, tennis, and skiing (particularly enjoying teaching his grandchildren to ski). He renovated his home’s kitchen, and led a senior “Bone Builders” exercise class.
In June of 2014, he and his beloved wife Kathy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with family and friends. A memorial service celebrating Dave’s life was held on September 20, 2014 in St. John’s Episcopal Church-Norwood Parish, Chevy Chase, MD.