Robert J. Nelson, 93, passed away peacefully in his home in Fairfield on February 24, 2021. Bob was the beloved patriarch for his five children, six grandchildren and one great-grandson. He was predeceased in 2013 by his wife of nearly 60 years, Jean Sullivan Nelson.
Born in Brockton, Massachusetts, Bob joined the Navy after high school in the waning days of World War 2. During his three years of naval service, Bob was trained as a medical corpsman and assisted surgeons in the emergency room. He was stationed throughout the US and aboard a Navy hospital ship anchored in the Chinese harbor of Tsingtao.
Following his discharge from the Navy, he obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Massachusetts School of Art, where he met his future wife Jean at a costume party. During his undergraduate days, Bob worked for George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, at Wein’s jazz club Mahogany Hall. It was at Mahogany Hall that Bob had the chance to see and hear some of the brightest lights in jazz, and his lifelong love of the jazz genre really began. After Mass Art, Bob obtained a Master of Education from Tufts University. In 1953, he married Jean, and the newlyweds each began careers in public education in upstate New York.
Six years later, Bob was recruited by the Norwalk Public Schools, where he would be employed in a variety of roles over the next 30 years. Following his first two years as a travelling art teacher, Bob was promoted to the position of art supervisor, which he held for nearly 20 years. As art supervisor, Bob trained elementary and secondary school teachers districtwide to utilize art education as a means of promoting creativity, self-discovery and critical thinking skills. He developed workshops demonstrating innovative teaching techniques and presented at numerous education conferences.
During the 1970s, Bob established a creative arts summer camp for Personal Fulfillment, of which he was also the director. The camp offered then-cutting edge opportunities in videography as well as studies in photography, creative movement, music and studio art. Bob also continued painting in acrylics and watercolors, exhibiting his work in local art shows. Bob went on to earn a further graduate degree in administration from the University of Bridgeport that supported his transition from teaching to the role of Assistant Principal at Roton Middle School before his 1989 retirement.
After retiring, Bob and Jean traveled to Hawaii, Ireland and the American West. For nearly 20 years they would return annually to their beloved Aruba for time spent laughing with family and dear friends. The Nelsons were also longtime members of the Gaelic American Club. Bob and Jean loved designing their award-winning costumes for the annual Gaelic Club Halloween masquerade. Bob also treasured listening to live Irish music at the club. Bob was passionate about art, politics, social justice, education, football, jazz, books, live theater and the NY Times crossword puzzle, which he completed daily right into his 93rd year.
Bob is survived by three daughters: Joellen Lawson of Newtown, Rosanne Nelson of Fairfield and Tina Bengermino of Fairfield, as well as two sons: Jonathan Nelson of West Hartford and Rob Nelson of Branford. His family will fondly recall many happy summers together at Jennings Beach and trips to Broadway to see plays. He leaves his family a lasting legacy of more than 100 paintings, many of which his family proudly hang in their homes. Above all, he loved his children, his grandchildren and his great-grandson, and he remained proud of them all.
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