Coping with Grief
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Paul Ellis Nelson was born the second of four sons all of whom were born in Fergus Falls, MN. Overcoming adversity was something he learned to do early on, as he developed a severe case of whooping cough when he was a baby and the doctors didn't think he would survive. But survive he did, and he went on to do a lot of good with the second chance that was given to him.
His family moved a lot when Paul was young, as his father's job at the Railway Express kept the family hopping. From Fergus Falls, they went to Ladysmith, WI then to Devil's Lake, ND, then back to Ladysmith before finally settling for good in Devil's Lake.
Growing up with three brothers, life was never boring. When Paul was young, one of the brothers threw a toy telephone at Paul's head when he was young, and after he ducked, the toy went through a pane of glass embedded in the bedroom door. For a family that didn't have a lot of money, this was a big deal. But the brother who threw the toy blamed Paul for ducking! Another time, Paul left his brother's bike on the railroad tracks, and only came home with the handlebars.
One of Paul's favorite stories about growing up was how his older brother - they were both quite young at the time - told him he could fly if he put a blanket on his shoulders and jumped off the roof of the house like Superman. Paul, being a very trusting person - something he would be for his entire life - believed this brother and did as he suggested. However, this did not work out as Paul had hoped. Paul retaliated in such a way that its doubtful if the brother remembers the incident, but Paul would always relate the story with a big smile. Paul would develop a very close bond with all his brothers; like his mother before him, Paul valued family more than anything else.
It was early in his life in Devil's Lake that Paul would develop a passion for airplanes, and would build model airplanes from balsa wood and tissue paper that flew. It's a hobby he would keep his entire life, building many, many models including hand launched, rubber powered, and gas powered as well as tow line gliders. He attended many contests and won many trophies and awards, but it was probably the love of seeing something he built that flew well that motivated him most.
Cars were to be a recurring theme in Paul's life. Early on, he wanted to take the family car - they only had money for one - out one evening, and when he was told he couldn't, he waited until everyone was asleep and pushed the car down the driveway. Unfortunately, it hit the water spigot which stuck out of the foundation of the house, knocking it completely off and the gushing water alerted everyone to what was going on. One can only imagine how pleased his rather strict father was with that one. Another time, he took a date up to the local hill where a ski jump resided, and killed the battery by playing the radio too long on a cold evening.
With not much to do and even fewer jobs present in the small town, Paul decided after high school to join the Navy, since there wasn't enough money in the family to send him to college. Making it as far as Japan, Paul was a targeting crewman for a large gun on a destroyer. It was towards the end of this tour of duty that he met his future wife, Bette Lou Brandhurst in San Diego, CA. She told the tale of how when they were first dating she thought he was a really horrible driver, only to find out later that he was driving without his necessary prescription glasses! She also related the story of how after he had proposed, and given her an engagement ring, he apparently got cold feet, and asked for the ring back. She refused. He clearly relented and went through with the marriage, and their children are deeply grateful. They enjoyed 52 mostly happy years until her death from lung cancer in 2011.
Fearless about most everything, Paul used his knowledge of radios gleaned from the Navy to fix radio towers in order to support his young family in those early days. Climbing hundreds of feet, as these towers can range in height from one hundred to six hundred feet, Paul would be fixing the equipment situated at the top of the tower. He eventually transitioned to fixing computers at various companies like RCA and Honeywell in numerous locations around the country, including Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas. Paul had seen the lack of money growing up, and he was ambitious to avoid that fate for his own family. Their first child did not make it to term, but the second, a son, was born in October of 1962. A daughter followed four years later in November of 1966.
Around this same time the original Star Trek series began. Paul's son remembers Paul sitting in his favorite chair, the son seated on the floor beside him, so they could watch and enjoy it together. Paul had passed along his love of science fiction to his young son. It was one of many ways Paul would influence his children.
Paul developed his passion for cars during this time when he was out of the Navy and making some money. All kinds of different cars followed, one after the other, but being frugal and not having lots of money Paul taught himself how to diagnose and fix his cars. He became an excellent mechanic and there were few jobs he was afraid to tackle. In later years, he bought and restored a Triumph TR-6, an MG B GT, and a 1976 Stringray Corvette. Paul’s daughter tells the story of how the MG came to be purchased, as Paul was out looking for a car for his daughter, and came across this "wonderful" car. So he bought it, and let the daughter have the family car, a Ford Fairlane, that was huge, heavy, and tremendously under powered with a 4 cylinder engine and a stick shift. The son vividly remembers driving this car and fervently hoping he wouldn't have to stop on a hill. Ever.
The Corvette came in an even more spectacular fashion; Paul had been looking for an older Corvette to buy and restore for some time, and finally found one in the South West, where the body would be in good shape since with no snow there's no salt or rust to worry about. He had it shipped to Massachussets for about one thousand dollars, and hadn't told his wife about the purchase. It arrived on a Sunday in May, Mother's Day to be precise, so he told his family (consisting of his wife, his son's family and his daughter's family) to go to dinner while he and his son-in-law would arrive later. They were waiting for the car to arrive, and planned to make a grand entrance. As usual, things did not work out as Paul hoped, and they never made it to dinner because the car died on the way and had to be towed home. Paul's wife was NOT amused. His son still isn't sure how Paul survived that incident.
Having been born during the Great Depression, raised during World War II, and done a tour in the Navy made Paul very frugal in general, with the possible exceptions of airplanes and cars. Paul's son can remember phrases like, "Waste not, want not" and "Take all you want, but eat all you take!" being used often. To this day the son has trouble not finishing his plate. However, Paul was incredibly generous to others, giving to charity and helping out family and friends whenever they asked, and sometimes even when they didn't. At the same time, he'd be perfectly happy with a 10 year old computer for himself that could barely boot up anymore.
He finally landed at Digital Equipment Corporation in Arlington, Texas, working for Field Service. Paul was a tireless worker, working nights and weekends quite often. The family dinner was typically around 7 PM so Paul would have time to get home. But as hard as he worked, he also made time for his family. His son remembers Paul coming home and saying, "Grab your glove, we're going outside to play catch!" Paul encouraged his son to play baseball, and even coached his team called the "Chiefs" one year while they were still living in Texas. He attended many of his son's baseball and soccer games.
But this was a highly stressful job, and forced Paul away from his family constantly, so in 1975 he moved his family to Chelmsford, MA. There he began learning to write computer code, which he did well, and eventually worked his way up to management while working at Digital. After Digital, he hopped around the high tech industry of Massachusetts and New York, generally working for small companies.
Occasionally in those early days he would take his children to the office with him on weekends. While his young daughter was exploring, and getting lost, in the Mill at Digital in Maynard, MA, the son played video games. In those days, they used a printing terminal so for every move, more paper was consumed. The son is aghast at the wastage of paper now, but believes it had an effect on him as he followed in his father's footsteps and went into Computer Science in college. His former boss remembers in the fall of perhaps 1978 the team had a costume party and in walks this tall woman and her significant other in a suit and mustache. No one knew who they were, and some even speculated that perhaps they had crashed the party. At the end of the evening, costumes were removed and the guy in the suit turned out to be Paul's wife, and the tall attractive woman was Paul (who must have been wearing lifts, as he was NOT tall). Interestingly, Paul's daughter ran into them as they were heading out to the party, and she recognized her mom right away, but was floored to find out the other person was her father who had shaved off his beard just for this event. Paul worked really hard, but he played at least as hard, and loved to laugh a lot. He had an excellent sense of humor. He was generally easy going and comfortable to talk to, even with strangers.
Many years later Paul's son, married by this time, was going to do some work on his house, as the back wall needed some siding replaced. Paul immediately insisted on helping. Even though the bad part of the wall that needed replacing was just a couple feet in diameter, they decided it was easier to rip out entire strips of siding and replace them with new ones rather than try and cut the pieces they needed to fit into the damaged parts. So on a warm summer day they were outside ripping out siding, and the son looked over to see his dad ripping out chunks with true gusto. It was like something from a cartoon the way the chips were flying. Somewhat taken aback, he asked his father, "Dad, have you ever done this before?" Paul, replied, "Oh heavens no!" And kept on ripping out pieces without a pause. This story beautifully illustrates several facets of Paul's character: family comes first, a true desire to help others, fearlessness in the face of new projects, even ones where he had no experience, and his boundless energy.
Paul had so much energy, in fact, that while he was working he would get up at 5 AM to work out before heading into the office around 6 AM. He would keep working out early in the mornings long after he retired. Paul was usually happiest when he was doing something. Paul could only relax comfortably in the evening after a full day of doing things.
Paul's daughter tells a similar story of how her and her husband, living near Baltimore, MD, were going to rip up their floor to put down new flooring. They told him they could handle it, but he showed up anyway ("Johnny on the spot!" was his catchphrase for showing up) after the 12 hour drive. He stayed for three days helping them replace their floors, enjoying every minute. Another time she got a programmable thermostat, and got it installed herself with little trouble. When she told him about it, he replied, “Of course, you’re my daughter!” She’s a biology major by trade. Paul’s daughter also remembers how she asked if he could take delivery of an item because she couldn’t get off work. Not only did he do so, but he also put the item together! A small wooden island pantry that she still uses. An engineer at heart for his entire life, he loved building things.
Paul’s daughter-in-law asked him to drive her to her medical procedure, which he gladly did, even though he had to wait for the prep, procedure, and then later for her to wake up enough to walk. He then drove her home, and asked if she’d like him to stay with her. He simply never tired of helping, unlike most of the rest of us.
More than once Paul gave away his cars as well, if he felt the recipient needed it more than he did. While not late model cars, because he was such a good mechanic they were always in good condition and provided years of trouble free service. He was incredibly generous to both family and friends alike, and also gave to many charities.
After he retired, he selflessly gave freely of his time to his local town, Georgetown, MA. He worked in the Conservation Commission, Affordable Housing Trust,and the Community Preservation Committee departments. He was so busy for so many years, one could hardly tell he'd retired. He was also active in the Democratic party, and led the Georgetown Democrats for years. He was very progressive and active, canvassing neighborhoods and manning phone banks on a regular basis. He fought for what he believed in. His son remembers the two of them knocking on many doors in NH to promote a Democratic candidate for president in 2004.
Paul was excellent at making good use of the present time, but he also planned well. He put aside money for both granddaughters in 529 accounts for their college educations. He was incredibly proud of both granddaughters, and never hesitated to help them out financially if they asked or needed it. He also attended many of their events over the years, the last being his youngest grand-daughter's graduation from college, just the month before. Everyone was so grateful he could be there.
After his first wife Bette died in 2011, Paul dated then married his second wife, MaryAnn Hunt. They married in 2016, lived in Georgetown until 2021, then moved to Medway, MA, to be nearer her granddaughters.
On a vacation to Virginia around 2012 or ’13, Paul noticed a very small cat starving on the street, occasionally fed by people but belonging to no one. He took the small cat home, fed it and got it healthy - this required pulling most of its teeth, unfortunately. In January 2018 he asked his son to care for the cat, as this cat prefers to be around people and Paul knew it would do better in a home with people to love it while he was away. The son agreed, but his family became even more attached during the six weeks Paul was traveling, and since their two cats had just died in the previous six months, Paul allowed them to keep the cat, which they have and love to this day. Paul's statement was, "I thought this could happen, but my main concern was I just wanted to be sure it'd go to a good home." Paul probably never realized just how much that small cat meant to the family, but it was a huge help to all of them at a time when they most needed it. It didn’t matter to Paul, he just knew he was helping someone else.
Paul passed away peacefully at Milford Regional Medical Center on June 26th, 2023, surrounded by his loving family. He is survived by his wife MaryAnn, son Brian and daughter Paula, 3 brothers - Garry, Fred and Jon, 2 grandchildren - Clarice and Marina, and many other friends and acquaintances who were lucky enough to know him. He will be terribly, terribly missed.
In lieu of flowers, the family highly encourages donations be sent to any of the following organizations that Paul supported: No Kid Hungry, Home for our Troops, Mercy Ships, and the Sierra Club. THE FAMILY DOES NOT WANT ANY FLOWERS !!!!
A Memorial Service is scheduled for 11 AM on July 29th, 2023, at the First Congregational Church, 7 Andover Street, Georgetown, MA.