[The following was prepared by Dwight Murphey and sent to Prof. Nelson’s wife to be read at Prof. Nelson’s memorial service in October 2005.]


Thoughts in memory of John Nelson



Dwight Murphey

October 2005


            It has been 52 years since in 1953 I took symbolic logic from John Nelson, then a young professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado.  I remember the impression he made on me as a strikingly unusual individual: his round, ruddy face; his untamed crew cut; his inimitable pranksterish voice; the twinkle of good humor sparkling in his eyes; and withal his being an excellent teacher.  Most importantly, he gave me much-valued moral support as I made myself a thorn in the side of the campus Left.  It was always a source of amazement that John—who considered himself partly classical liberal, partly Burkean conservative, and always a critic of the Left—was able to survive as a member of the University’s faculty for a long career as a philosopher.  I suspect that his infectious friendliness and tolerance toward others’ opinions gave him the protection he needed.  He was a man of great moral strength and intellectual independence, two qualities those who knew him have always much appreciated.

            He was one of those friends who remain just as close a friend even though several years go by without contact.  We conducted a decades-long correspondence, although there were some long stretches when we were each absorbed in our separate lives.  For me, John was not only a dear friend, but a friend who occupied a place that was truly rare and valuable: a partner in thinking.  In a long exchange of letters, we shared ideas, taking them seriously and reflecting on their many nuances.  It’s not surprising that, even though we held fundamentally similar worldviews, our correspondence centered on the points at which we differed.  There was much give-and-take, but as I review that correspondence it is the tone that stands out as perhaps most remarkable: never was there any hint of one being patronizing to the other or either of us showing the slightest irritation over the other’s failure to see things exactly as he should.  John will always occupy a special place of honor in my life as a friend who considered ideas important, and who always discussed them rationally and without the warpings that come from fanaticism, mental childishness or ideological rote.  I especially look forward to rereading his sonnets, with their evocative images and remarkable insights.

            Our hearts should now go out to Edna, John’s dear “Chris,” who was John’s beloved wife and companion for almost 63 years of marriage.  For many of those years, they shared their nest on a street high up the side of Flagstaff Mountain.  Such a marriage, we know, is a monument to them both.