Richard John Nelson 1923-2023
Dr. Richard John Nelson, 99, died Friday, February 10, 2023, at the Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home after a nearly century-long active life devoted to family, medicine, music, and the outdoors.
A dedicated physician and accomplished musician/composer, Richard, who friends and family called R.J., Dick, Doc, Dad, Papa or Papa Great, had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, an understanding of the joy of music and a tireless compassion as evidenced by the care of his patients.
He was born December 23, 1923, to Harry and Eudora Eschler Nelson in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was the third of the Nelsons’ four sons, but his oldest brother, Quentin, died as an infant before Richard was born.
As a child Richard excelled academically as well as musically. He attended the William M. Stewart Training School at the University of Utah. Many of his Stewart classmates became his lifelong friends. He developed his musical talent as a child by his steadfast study of the piano. He later expanded his musical gift by studying the organ and musical composition.
He graduated from East High School and the University of Utah.
At age 22 he graduated from the U. Medical School and then completed postgraduate medical studies at Harvard and Columbia universities.
In 1946, during a summer job at the Clearfield Naval Depot, he met another summer worker, Ettalue Fernelius. He married the Weber County beauty on June 10, 1947, in the Salt Lake Temple.
After completing his medical education, Capt. Richard J. Nelson entered the Army Medical Corps, and the couple moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. There their first child, Harry Fernelius, was born. Later, three more children joined the family – daughter Suzanne and sons Eric Byrne and Kendell Eschler.
After returning to Salt Lake City, Richard opened his private internal medicine practice where he cared for patients for 35 years. Holidays, weekends, and family activities were often interrupted by the need for Dr. Nelson’s expertise. He loved helping people.
His professional life extended beyond his private practice. He served for 12 years as the Salt Lake City public health commissioner. For his work safeguarding the Salt Lake Valley’s drinking water, he was awarded the U.S. Public Health Services Award. He also served as chief of the LDS Hospital medical staff and had a variety of leadership positions at LDS Hospital and the University of Utah Medical School. He helped establish the Deseret Foundation, an organization dedicated to enhancing medical research and education.
Richard and Ettalue supported each other in many endeavors, adventures, and activities in their 63-year partnership. She died in 2011.
They worked hard but enjoyed traveling the world and spending family time in their cabins at Alta, Utah and Victor, Idaho. The family loved skiing, hunting, fishing, golfing, tennis, hiking and 4-wheeling. Richard fished throughout the world, but his favorite times were fly-fishing and floating the Teton River with family and friends.
The couple also enjoyed their long-term season tickets to the Utah Symphony, Utah Opera, Pioneer Theater, and University of Utah athletic events. An ardent Ute fan, Richard supported the football and basketball teams and was the U.’s longest continuous season-ticket holder.
After retirement, Richard focused on fulfilling his longtime desire to compose music. He received additional training at the U. Music Department, The Juilliard School and the Eastman School of Music. Many of his 200 compositions have been published, and annually he included a new composition to his Christmas cards.
Richard is survived by his four children: Harry (Jeanette) Nelson, Suzanne Pisciotta, Salt Lake City; Eric Nelson, Victor, Idaho; and Kendell (Kelly) Nelson, Bountiful; grandchildren: Leanne (Scott) Coleman, Richard Skyler (Erin) Nelson, Scott (Kylee) Nelson, Kendra (Jacob) Jensen, Michael John Nelson and Sarah Nelson; and 10 great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his spouse, Ettalue; his parents Harry and Eudora Nelson; brothers, Quentin, Dr. Claron E. Nelson and Dr. Don H. Nelson; and a sonin-law, Donald Pisciotta.
A visitation will be held on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Holbrook Mortuary, 3251 S. 2300 East. A graveside service will be held on Friday, February 24, at 11 a.m. at the Millville (Cache County) Cemetery. Burial will be in the Nelson family plot. In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to the Utah Food Bank, Bennion Center at the University of Utah or a charity of your choice.