Edward Nelson, raised in the American Heartland, looked beyond
the small town of his birth and yearned for adventure.
Born November 3, 1935 in DeKalb, Illinois, Don cultivated an
ardent interest in geography and travel. These dual passions guided
his life, fueled a 40-year career in navigation, delivered rich
experiences, and fostered lifelong friendships around the world.
He graduated with honors from Northern Illinois University in
1957 and joined the U.S. Navy. Trained as a navigator and flight
crew member, he flew countless missions navigating anti-submarine
patrols. He also spent a year as a Navy ROTC instructor at the
University of California at Berkley, a fascinating place to be
in uniform during the late '60s.
California quickly became Don's adopted home; he liked its climate,
its diversity and its stimulating people. He resigned his commission
in 1967, transferred to the Navy Reserves, and began a second
career as a navigator for civilian airlines. A professional highlight
came in 1972 when his flight crew shuttled government equipment
to China preceding then President Richard Nixon's historic visit.
The advent of new positioning technologies 30 years ago forever
altered Don's path. As black boxes began to replace his skills
set at large airlines, Don turned to smaller airlines to remain
in flight. Despite this setback, Don remained adamant that his
flying career represented his "salad days." He became
one of the world's last flying navigators.
In the '70s, Don worked for NASA's Ames Research Center developing
flight plans for NASA's most advanced research aircraft. His flight
plans sent NASA's best and brightest along paths that led to many
exciting discoveries in space, earth sciences, and even archeology.
Don thrived in this environment of co-workers who shared his love
of flight and curiosity for the unknown. Though happy to have
a job that tapped his unique navigational talents, he yearned
for more flight time. He returned to commercial airlines, augmenting
the flight time with weekend drills in the Air Force Reserves.
Don retired in the mid-'90s as a lieutenant colonel.
In the late '80s Don worked with McDonnell Douglas and Chrysler
Aerospace on government contracts developing war games. The job
was considered glamorous, but Don viewed his work — keeping
air crews trained — as a valuable service to his country.
He retired from aviation in the late '90s.
Don was a people person. A prodigious correspondent, he welcomed
guests and gladly guided tours. His circle of friends grew geometrically
as one met another and formed new connections. The churches in
which Don was involved greatly appreciated his organizational
acumen and his ability to blend people with organizations.
As a child, Don excelled at sports. As an adult, he was a devoted
fan of basketball, baseball and football, especially when viewed
in convivial surroundings. He often timed his visits to friends
around the country to catch a St. Louis Cardinals game and sometimes
followed his teams to spring training camps.
Don passed suddenly on January 28, 2000, four weeks after having
been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Among his last words were
these: "The good times don't last forever." Though Don
never married and had no living family, he is survived by a family
of devoted friends who will never forget the light he brought
into their lives, his limitless energy, laughter, friendship,
and good nature.