February 20, 1921- May 19, 2014
On Monday morning, May 19, 2014, the world paused for just a moment to acknowledge the passing of Ken Nelson, a dear friend, a wonderful human being and a tireless volunteer who spent much of his life working with our youth. Ken Nelson was one of MADD’s first volunteers. I will never forget the day he walked into my office with a check in hand and asked “what can I do?” His young cousin had been killed in a drunk driving crime. I asked him to join our non-existent (at the time) speaker’s bureau and he reluctantly said he would. We were being overwhelmed with requests for speakers and trying to get our bureau off the ground when I asked for his help. He agreed, but only on a trial basis since speaking wasn’t his forte. However, he took on this challenge as he had taken on other major challenges in his life more (Please see his book: Three Crazy Careers Seventy Two Years, One Lucky Man)
He was more than reliable and informed. He was phenomenal. One of my regrets is that I did not have the opportunity to hear him speak. He not only represented us but also worked with SADD, Students Against Drunk Drivers, founded by my daughter Serena, Cari’s twin, when her sister was killed. SADD was eventually picked up by others. The name is now Students Against Destructive Decisions.
Ken started with service clubs and other similar organizations before eventually becoming a featured speaker at high schools across the country. In the course of his speaking, he was surprised to receive a letter from one of the students concerning their own issues with alcohol. That letter was the beginning of an odyssey into the minds and hearts of our young people through thousands of correspondence that spanned more than twenty years and chronicled in his book, Dear Mr. Nelson.
Ken and I stayed in touch over the years with our correspondence increasing after his cancer diagnosis. I wrote him a good-by letter that his son told me he was able to read before he died. Those letters are always difficult but I knew Ken had accepted his diagnosis and prepared himself and his family for his eventual passing. He lived a beautiful life, taking pride in his family, his volunteer work and his last career as an author. Although I am saddened by his death, I am heartened by the legacy he left behind; what one person can do to make such a difference in the lives of so many young people. And he did. He was one of the truly wonderful people I came to know while I was at MADD. Since I believe in life after death, I also believe that he is now joined by millions of young people who will get the benefits of his wisdom in eternal life.
Our hearts and thoughts are with his family and friends as they celebrate his life on June 14th.