Like many who retire to Astoria, Edward Nelson Jr. often stared out the window of his home, relishing the view of the Columbia River. Nonetheless, he couldn’t sit idly for too long.
“He had a very active mind,” said David Phillips, a longtime fellow member of the Columbia Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees who developed a friendship with Nelson. “He just was not known to sit around.”
Nelson died last week at 87. He served in the Coast Guard for more than 36 years — including a stop at Air Station Astoria as a commander — and his footprint could be seen in many local organizations.
Nelson graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut in 1953. A year later, he married his wife, Joyce. He would go on to make a lot of decisions in the next few decades, but he often told friends that his proposal to Joyce was his best one.
The rear admiral held a number of top positions in the Coast Guard that took him to Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Newfoundland, Louisiana, Washington state and North Carolina. In each place, he would find an organization where he could volunteer.
“He was a very outgoing and intelligent man,” Joyce Nelson said. “He always volunteered for other things. It’s a way of getting to know the local people.”
Nelson was a commander at Air Station Astoria from 1971 to 1974. By the time he retired as the commander of the 17th District, which monitors the entire Alaska region, he had become the Coast Guard’s Ancient Albatross — the longest-serving active duty aviator.
Peter Troedsson, now the Albany city manager, spent 30 years in the Coast Guard and was the commander in Astoria from 2006 to 2009. During Troedsson’s command, Nelson would act as a mentor both to him and junior officers.
Though his career started as Nelson’s was ending, Troedsson felt a kinship
“He was one of those folks that is interested in every aspect of the operation,” Troedsson said. “He maintained avid interest in everything the stations he commanded did.”
When he did retire, the Nelsons settled in Astoria. During the years he spent in the area, he enjoyed the city’s Scandinavian influence — similar to that of his hometown in Worcester, Massachusetts. As always, the couple had plenty of connections.
“We had a lot of friends back here, and they said, ‘Why don’t you retire here?’” Joyce Nelson said.
In 1991, just a couple of years after retirement, Nelson was appointed to the hospital board, where he once served as chairman. He wasn’t the most talkative during meetings, but others on the board remembered how supportive he was to them.
A military man, Nelson was also keen on details such as grammar.
“He would go through the budget and say — on page 42, paragraph four — that ‘it’s’ should be ‘its’,” said Constance Waisanen, the board’s current president.
Nelson did not want a plaque or trophy when he stepped down last year. Rather, the board created a new title of trustee emeritus specifically for him.
“He always carried himself with such dignity,” Waisanen said. “He brought something really unique.”
In addition to the hospital board, Nelson served two years as a Port of Astoria commissioner and spent time on the Astoria Library advisory board. He created the local chapter of the Military Officers Association of America and also served on the organization’s national board.
Since 2015, Troedsson has been a member of the board that Nelson expanded locally.
“It provides, first and foremost, an avenue for advocacy of services for military families,” Troedsson said. “It also provides a social opportunity for officers to connect.”
A public memorial service for Nelson — with Troedsson, Phillips and state and Coast Guard officials scheduled to speak — is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Air Station Astoria hangar. His inurnment will take place at the Coast Guard Academy Columbarium.
As time passes, friends and family will remember Nelson’s strong — and tasteful — sense of humor, even temperament, caring nature and loyalty.
“If you were a friend of his,” Phillips said, “you were a friend for life.”