Richard L. Nelson, Insurance Executive

August 19, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen

Richard L. Nelson, a retired insurance executive and medical philanthropist, died Aug. 10 from complications of diabetes at his Pikesville home. He was 89.

Mr. Nelson was born and raised in Northwest Baltimore. He was a graduate of Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tenn..

Graduating at 15, Mr. Nelson felt he was too young for college, so he took a job with an insurance company during the late 1930s making $12 a week.

"He had his own private secretary when he was 17," said his wife of 42 years, the former Natalie "Nickie" Fish. "He later became a self-made millionaire."

His insurance career was interrupted when he left to serve in the Army during World War II.

He resumed his career at the war's end and became a chartered life underwriter. He passed the normal three-year course in six months, Mrs. Nelson said.

Mr. Nelson's insurance career, which spanned nearly 40 years, was spent primarily with Riggs Counselman Michaels & Downes Inc., and Massachusetts Mutual, from which he retired in the mid-1970s.

"He always did business on a handshake and at times, paid out of his own pocket for additional coverage that he felt his clients needed," his wife said.

In 1963, he took over Fish Linen Rental Services Inc., a business that had been owned by his father-in-law, and was in bankruptcy at the time. Within six months, Mr. Nelson had turned the business around.

He sold it in 1986.

Mr. Nelson, who lived at One Slade Avenue in Pikesville, was an avid golfer and tennis and bridge player.

He also enjoyed photography and was a longtime member of the Baltimore Camera Club and the Suburban Club.

When he was diagnosed with diabetes, Mr. Nelson established the Richard L. and Natalie Nelson Diabetic Research Fund at Johns Hopkins Hospital with a million-dollar contribution.

He also extended his philanthropy to Sinai Hospital, where he had donated a macular degeneration machine.

At Mr. Nelson's request, there will be no services.

Also surviving is a brother, Sidney Nelson of Westholme, Pa.

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