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Donald F. Nelson

Obituary for Donald F. Nelson

July 4, 1930 - April 17, 2019
Worcester, Massachusetts | Age 88


Worcester-Donald F. Nelson – physicist, university professor, writer, and Renaissance man – who had lived in Worcester since 1987, died on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at the age of 88. Don was proud to have been born on Independence Day in 1930 and loved to joke that everyone made such a big deal over his birthday. He was born in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, son of Paul V. and F. Dorothea (Atchison) Nelson. He grew up in Michigan and was valedictorian of the Class of 1948 at Ottowa Hills High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1954, he married Margaret (Mickie) Fuerstenau. He attended the University of Michigan where he received his B. S. Phi Beta Kappa, his M. S. and, in 1959, his Ph.D. in physics. Don was an active member of the Psi Upsilon Fraternity at the University.
Don spent 27 years in basic research in optics and solid state physics at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey where he invented the first continuously operating ruby laser in 1962 with Nobel Prize winner Willard Boyle. He also had teaching interludes at the University of Michigan, University of Southern California, and Princeton University. While at Bell Labs, Don lived in Summit, New Jersey where he served on the Common Council of the City of Summit and, for many years,as the chairman of the Budget Review Committee for the United Way of Greater Union County. After his 1987 retirement from Bell Labs, he became a professor of physics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and continued his research. Don retired in 2000 from WPI.
Don enjoyed history, genealogy, writing and current affairs. He published a theoretical physics text, as well as a biography of his maternal grandfather, and a book about the Chappaquiddick tragedy. He was also a past president of the Worcester Torch Club and contributed several articles to the national Torch magazine on topics ranging from Radon to Shakespeare, and Chappaquidick to the laser. Don was an active member of the American Antiquarian Society and the Worcester Bohemian Club and, for many years, he was a member of the Board of Assistants of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants. Don was also an active member of First Baptist Church in Worcester and enjoyed playing golf and tennis for 20 years as a member of Tatnuck Country Club. A highlight of Don and Mickie's summers on Martha's Vineyard were the annual visits of their grandsons. Don loved to travel, and he and Mickie traveled far beyond the Vineyard to Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East.
In addition to his wife, Mickie, of 64 years, Don is survived by his daughters Lisa (Peter Komarek) of Edina, Minnesota ,and Julie (David) Nelson-Gal of Palo Alto, California, grandsons Maxwell, Tobey, and Jackson Nelson-Gal of California, and Brady and Nelson Komarek of Minnesota, sister Dorothy J. Healy of Alamo, California, and nieces, nephews and many dear friends. He was predeceased by his older brother Lawrence P. Nelson.
Don greatly appreciated the caring staff at The Briarwood Continuing Care Retirement Community where he and Mickie lived for the last two years. Don's family wishes to thank the Knollwood Nursing Center and the Jewish HealthCare Center Hospice for the compassionate care they provided during Don's last days. A Celebration of Life will be held on June 15, 2019 at 11am at First Baptist Church, 111 Park Avenue, Worcester. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of Don to the Briarwood Residents Assistance Fund at 65 Briarwood Circle, Worcester, MA, 01606.

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