John Eric Nelson
May 29, 1947 to February 5, 2020
not to be confused with John K. Nelson, prof of Buddhism at USF

John Nelson was a much beloved member of the SFZC. He was a student at Tassajara for a couple of years. He, his wife Kim, and their kids, Bergen and Eric lived in Muir Beach for some years. He worked for Huey Johnson's Trust for Public Land helping to steer real estate toward the public good. They moved to the East Coast but stayed in contact. The last I was in touch with John, he was involved with John Steiner in some projects, again, for the benefit of society. John was a managing partner of Wall Street without Walls, "Preparing community development organizations for capitol markets." I remember John as a most congenial, optimistic, likeable person, always maintaining his youthful vigor, and from what others are saying, he did so till the end. Farewell dear friend. - DC

Announcement of April 4, Reston, VA memorial for John

John's Facebook page

John Steiner on John Nelson

from the Yale Alumni Magazine

Wall Street without Walls profile of John

The Institutional Development of Zen in America from 1893 - a 1973 paper by John E. Nelson when he was doing graduate work at the University of Michigan. Now immortalized on with listings on the Early Papers and Others Contribute pages.

From John's daughter Bergen

It is with a very heavy heart I share that my father, John, took his last breath this morning. It was very peaceful, at my parents' home. My mom Kim, brother Eric, and I were by his side. He battled stage 4 colorectal cancer for the past 1.5 years and had a sudden turn for the worse just over 2 weeks ago. We are thankful for the good care he received in the hospital and then with home hospice, and forever grateful for the support we have received from family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time.

I pretty much hit the jackpot when I was born into this world as John's daughter. He was the most positive and encouraging person I've ever known. His was the first face I saw in life, and he has loved me all my life, taken care of me, helped with school and work projects, helped with every move, played with our kids, and has never hesitated to visit us, drum up ideas, talk, play, or enjoy life to its fullest.

Although I am heartbroken to lose him, too soon, I am feeling deep love and gratitude for the person he was and everything we shared. Thinking about so many happy memories to help me get through this sadness.

I'm sorry for anyone hearing this sad news for the first time. It's just too overwhelming to try and communicate with all the people he touched. We will share official details, obituary, and memorial service info as soon as we have it.

Rest in peace, beloved father.

A tribute to John from Cherie Santos Wuest on Facebook

Norman Fischer Oh dear had no idea he was sick. Such a bright presence. Kim and John were parent/comrades at Tassajara long ago. We will never forget John. Kathie and I send love and condolences.(fom Facebook)

John Steiner sent the following in memory of John Nelson

We called John Eric Nelson the laughing bodhisattva. He never stopped being kind, loving and in service to everyone he me in any capacity he was engaged in. I certainly was on the receiving end many, many times. Virtually every time I  came to Washington, DC, John would pick me up at Dulles or Reagan and I’d spend my first night in town with him and Kim, or he and I would head out for dinner, usually at the Tabard Inn. John introduced me to many wonderful folks over the years.

I believe John meditated virtually every day for nearly 50 years. He had a deep center, a joyous calmness, and an infectious laugh, which was rarely far away. To me he lived by the motto, “ If it’s not fun don’t do it. If you must do it, make it fun.”It was a delight to be with him. He was such a gift to friends and colleagues. I saw him maybe once or twice a year and considered him to be one of my closest friends. I suspect many felt the same way about him. His warm, loving heart enveloped us, supported us, and enlivened us.

John loved DC and environs and I suspect he knew the name and a little history of almost every public building in a wide area. One had his or her own private sight seeing service. One of the last times we were together, he took me – for my very first time -- to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. He showed me the vaults where some of his relatives were interred.

John and I had the privilege of being together at Tassajara, the Zen Mountain Center back in the mid to late 70’s where   we bonded for many lifetimes. I had the privilege then of knowing Kim and Eric and Bergen and being with them often when they lived at Muir Beach, after leaving Tassajara.

I had known John’s great mentor, Huey Johnson, who had been with the Nature Conservancy and then started the Trust for Public land – helping to provide parks and open spaces in cities.  John, as I recall, led a campaign to plant trees all over DC.

When in grad school at Michigan (he did his undergraduate work at Yale), John wrote about the history of Zen in America. He loved American history and occasionally we would work together on various civic engagement projects. John loved to share his knowledge and his wisdom and being with him was also uplifting. His capacity to enlist professional Wall St types, some better known than others (!) to support cities and towns was prodigious. His ability to learn and master, often complex subjects, served him well.

We all loved and adored him. Who he was made that possible. One felt better about themselves when in the radiance of John Eric Nelson. I miss him dearly. Although we all are, some are more so. John was an original. There’s a rent in the fabric of the Kosmos. May his great spirit continue to touch us and offer us solace, while making sure we don’t take ourselves too seriously!

I close with one of my favorite quotes attributed to William Penn and as worthy an epitaph for our dear friend, father and husband as I can think of:

If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow human being, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.

from the Yale Alumni Magazine - by Ted Van Dyke
(thanks John Steiner)

John Eric Nelson died of colorectal cancer on February 5, 2020.  He fought it bravely, tenaciously and optimistically.  When I last saw him on January 24, we parted with a long-held fist bump and his saying, “It’s not looking good, but I’m not giving up.”

John was an excellent athlete, winning the class of 1969 intramural athlete of the year award and leading the JE Spiders football teams to multiple championships.  John even teased Calvin Hill that he had been the best athlete in the class.  Not just an athlete, John was always proud that his father had seen written on his admissions folder, “Football not necessary.”  Handsome, too, he was very popular with my wife’s Vassar friends, among many others. 

He was not always happy at Yale and freshman and sophomore year we discussed transferring endlessly—he to Stanford.  Yet, he became devoted to Yale and served for many years as a stalwart on the reunion committees.  At the 50th, he even led the Memorial Service as he was battling his own, eventually fatal, illness. 

John had a gift for friendship.  He was an integral part of a group of close JE classmates.  A sub-set, he, Steve Haworth, Eric Lenck and myself took close to 10 golf vacations over the past 20 some years, including one to the Azores last September.  There, undaunted by his cancer, he and I defeated Eric and Steve to take the self-styled “JE Open.”

The center of a very loving family, starting with his wife Kim, his children Bergen and Eric, three grandchildren, Harper, Sawyer and Miles, his sister Kathy and her family, it extended even to the parents of his children’s spouses. 

Professionally, John marched to a different drummer, to the point of spending two years at the Zen Monastery at Tassajara, Ca.  He used his outgoing and self-confident personality to develop a career as a consultant, helping disadvantaged neighborhoods obtain expert financial advice to further their development projects.  For many years there was a cartoon on his refrigerator with four bees— the queen bee, the warrior bee, the worker bee, and the consultant bee.

I was especially fortunate to have had a relationship with John that goes back unbroken for 63 years to our bonding as the second baseman and shortstop on a Northern Virginia Little League team.  Many others were also lucky to get to know him, and all who did will always remember his larger than life personality with affection. 

John Nelson writes a Letter

from the SFZC and East Coast Zen page

Chester Carlson died in 1968 having been the major contributor toward the purchase of  Tassajara, is credited with being a donor toward the purchase of the ZC City Center in 1969 through his wife but her interests soon turned elsewhere and she came to see, at least for a while, these Zen groups as being too interested in real estate. John Nelson wrote her a letter around 1973 thanking her for the family's support of Zen Center and got back a letter with scathing disgust resulting from too much giving and too many requests. But later my aunt who like Carlson lived in Rochester, NY, said she thought that wasn't the end of her support for the Rochester Zen group. John gave the letter to abbot Richard Baker.



Thanks John Steiner for sending the following piece about John from WSWW

No date yet.


Managing Partner, Wall Street Without Walls

John Eric Nelson is the managing partner of the Wall Street Without Walls initiative, providing financial technical assistance from finance professionals to community-based organizations and public agencies in order to access the capital markets and for transactions over $3M. Funded by major foundations, WSWW provides capital markets orientation and training programs nationally through the individual banks of the Federal Reserve Bank system and financial technical assistance to community development organizations and public agencies through teams of volunteer finance professionals, including retired and active investment bankers volunteering their expertise as a new form of philanthropy.

He recently organized a WSWW exchange between China and the US on “Next Generation Philanthropy.” He earlier served as director of the Corporate Partnership Program at the National Congress for Community Development. Funded as part of the Ford Foundation's Corporate Involvement Initiative, the program facilitated market-driven, business case opportunities with community-based development organizations and minority entrepreneurs in joint venture business investments.

He has been involved in comprehensive environmental policy as a senior advisor to the Resource Renewal Institute’s international “Green Plan” initiative and as a consultant to the President’s Council for Sustainable Development during the Clinton administration.

Mr. Nelson has over thirty years experience in community economic development, management consulting, and collaborative environmental policy. He designed and managed the Small Business Opportunity Project for HUD to assist public housing residents plan and run their own businesses. He founded the national urban land trust program for the Trust for Public Land and managed non-profit liaison for the Chevrolet-Geo environmental program.

Much of his consulting activity has been in the area of multi-sectoral collaboration on behalf of clients in business, government, and the public interest and the design and implementation of corporate social responsibility programs. He is senior advisor for strategic relations at the Institute for Building Technology and Safety. He is Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National Disability Institute, a board member of the Institute for Local Innovation, and previously served on the Board of Overseers of the School of Community Economic Development at Southern New Hampshire University.

He is currently on the CRA Advisory Board for BB&T's Washington DC area; the Advisory Board for Impact Community Capital, Waveleand Ventures and for Partners for the Common Good; and a member of the Economic Development Assistance Consortium. Mr. Nelson was the founding President of the William James Foundation, promoting the development of socially responsible businesses by young adults, including a nationwide business plan competition among business and graduate schools. He has spoken as a panelist or keynote speaker before national and regional audiences for numerous conferences over the past 30 years and authored articles in various national publications on innovations in public private partnerships, community development finance, and corporate social responsibility.

Mr. Nelson graduated from Yale College and recently co-chaired the class reunion; received his MA degree from the University of Michigan where he also taught social psychology; and has a certification in Community Development Finance from the Milano Graduate School of New School University. He has been a guest lecturer in community development finance at the McDonough Business School at Georgetown University from 2001 to 2012. He was honored by Civic Ventures as a “Purpose Prize” semifinalist in 2009. Married to Kimberly Ballard Nelson for 45 years with two grown children and three grandsons. Likes to play golf and tennis.