Harold F. Nelson, Jr.

Harold F. Nelson, Jr., an Instructor in Government (1950-51), died on May 4, 2021, in Ashburn, Virginia.

(The following was published by the Royston Funeral Home on May 4, 2021)

Harold F. Nelson, Jr.

Harold F. Nelson, Jr.

Harvey Frans Nelson, Jr. passed away peacefully at his home in Ashburn, Virginia, on May 4, 2021. He was 97 years old and could claim a life well-lived. Born in Long Beach, California on January 26, 1924, he experienced the Great Depression as a child, briefly worked as a merchant seaman as a teenager, served in the U.S. Navy during World War Two, and dedicated the rest of his working life to public service in the U.S. State Department.

During World War Two, Harvey trained as a Russian language officer, in preparation for a long war with Japan that would include working closely with Soviet allies. The atom bomb changed that trajectory, and he received additional training in intelligence before being sent as a liaison officer to the British Navy in Kiel, during the occupation of Germany. Released from active duty in 1946, he returned to California, where he completed his undergraduate studies in 1947 at Occidental College. That year, he also married Celia Anne Kendrick (C. Anne), whom he had met at the University of Colorado during his Russian language studies.

His father, Harvey F. Nelson, Sr. was a businessman of great integrity, and his mother Marian was the daughter of the famously progressive senator from Nebraska, George W. Norris. They had instilled in their son a strong sense of responsibility and civic duty and he looked to engage in some type of public service. He continued into graduate study at Occidental College, leaning toward a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. He took the three-day foreign service exam before continuing his studies at the University of Stockholm and then the Fletcher School of International Law and Diplomacy.

Harvey did not do well on the oral part of his foreign service exams but would have the opportunity to try again later. In the interim, he took a teaching position at Bowdoin College, which proved such a wonderful experience that he briefly considered a career in academia. He retook his oral exams, though, and entered the Foreign Service Officer course in October of 1950.

His first diplomatic posting was to Copenhagen (1952-56) where he handled consular duties before moving into the political section. Finnish language school and a course of study on Eastern Europe at the University of Indiana were a prelude to a posting to Finland (1961- 64). By then Harvey and C. Anne were no longer on their own but had four young children in tow. In the post-war era, nations around the world emerged from colonial occupation and Harvey’s career veered from Europe to Africa.

His first African post was the Congo (1966-67), a politically restive place of great Cold War challenge. The next assignment, however, was the quieter Gabon (1967-69), after which he was able to spend a few years in Washington D.C. Overseas assignments beckoned again, this time to Southern Africa, where he and his family were posted to Zambia (1972-75). Another year stateside included a stint at the United Nations as well as the Office of Congressional Relations, and then it was on to South Africa (1976-79).

He and C. Anne spent the early 1980s in academic settings, which proved a pleasant way for a senior diplomat to help develop a new generation of leaders. First was the University of Arizona (1979-80 academic year) and then the U.S. Army War College, at Carlisle (1980-84). The intent of the War College is to take senior military men out of their technical fields and immerse them in a graduate-level liberal arts program, to help future generals better understand the nation they serve. Harvey and C. Anne readily embraced the setting, the dedicated military students and faculty, and the intellectual stimulation. They looked to retire nearby, but in 1985 those plans fell apart when cancer claimed C. Anne, Harvey’s wife of 37 years.

Unsure what to do next, Harvey’s family encouraged him to accept an offer to be the U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland, which he accepted, although heart-broken C. Anne would not be there with him. While in Swaziland (1985-88), he met an Australian woman named Esta de Fossard, who was under contract with USAID. They were married in 1988, after which Harvey retired.

Esta continued working and under contracts with Johns Hopkins University provided communications training to a great many organizations worldwide. Harvey and Esta travelled to places like Vietnam, Bangladesh, Peru, and Nepal, where Esta conducted workshops to help develop educational entertainment programs that addressed public health issues. Those globe-trotting days also came to an end when Esta eventually retired. They spent their later years in Northern Virginia. Esta preceded Harvey in death by just a few months.

He is survived by four children and their spouses – Erik (Mary), Kai (Margery), Peter (Vicki), Annika DiVittorio (Michael); and two step-children – Granville de Fossard (Di) and Beatrice Miller. He also had eight grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

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