The Legendary Brian Nelson died peacefully at Sanford Hospital in Fargo early Sunday, September 20th, 2020 at the age of 82.
Brian was born on New Year’s Eve 1937 to Hjalmer (Jam) Nelson and Ann (Jackson) Nelson in Fargo, ND, where he grew up, graduating from Fargo Central High in 1955.
He attended the University of North Dakota where he received his Bachelor of Philosophy (’61) and Law Degree (’62). Nicknamed ‘Putz’, he made many lifelong friends at UND and the stories of the shenanigans with his Sigma Chi brothers are for the ages.
After college, he served as a pilot in the Army from 1963-1965, where he had the honor of flying Hubert Humphrey and other dignitaries. During this time, he met and began dating Mary Margaret Peterson in Minneapolis, MN. His time in the army brought him to Alabama and Texas and solidified his love for the Great Plains. The infinite horizon and winds that whipped across the prairie signified home to him. It encouraged his love of the outdoors, whether a fishing excursion, laying out on a duck pass, or hunting deer. Always with friends. Always with laughter.
Upon his discharge from the Army, he returned to Fargo and began building his Criminal Defense law practice. He married Mary in 1967 and they welcomed children Blair (’69), Dacotah (’75), and Tyler (’81).
Brian practiced law for 50 years and was an equally brilliant and compassionate attorney. He loved the complexity and creativity of formulating a legal argument. Nothing incensed him more than someone whom he felt had been wronged by the system. He felt compelled to take these cases—often pro bono—and many of his wins changed North Dakota law. He cared about his clients, considering many of them friends. And they appreciated him, one happy client in Hebron, holding a “Nut Fry & Pool Tournament” to celebrate an acquittal. He felt there was no greater honor. Brian was a wonderful boss and mentor. In his final weeks, he was very moved to receive calls, notes, and visits from former employees and colleagues, all he considered dear friends.
Brian considered himself a renaissance man. He was a ragtime aficionado and a world class tinkerer. Brian was champion marksman and a gun collector, very fond of vintage over and under shotguns; though he hunted with a beat up Franchi Auto. Brian was talented in the kitchen and loved cooking for friends and family. Those lucky enough to share in one of these meals, will tell you the best part was not the perfectly grilled steak, but the stories and laughter that accompanied it. Later in life Brian took great joy in watching his kids buzzing around the kitchen and was proud that “they all can cook!”
One of the things that made Brian so legendary, was his island. There are different accounts of how he procured it as a young, 19-year-old man. None will be confirmed nor denied here. But it is an incredibly special place that he enjoyed most of his life. His family will continue to enjoy it and will always feel Papa there.
Brian was survived by his bride of 52 years, Mary Margaret Nelson; Son Blair Nelson (Jennifer) of Bemidji, MN; Daughter Dacotah Nelson (Bryce Clambey) of Portland, OR; Son Tyler Nelson (Olga Kalinina) of Luxemburg City, Luxemburg; Grandchildren Alex Nelson (Minneapolis), Madeline, Kiera, Annika, & Hunter Nelson (Bemidji), Mila Nelson (Luxemburg), Tabor & Prairie Clambey (Portland).
He was preceded in death by his parents, Jam and Ann, beloved sisters, Vergel Storch & Gloria Faruolo, many, many good friends, hunting buddies, 7 goats and some of the best Labrador Retrievers in the world.
He was laid to rest at the Fargo National Cemetery in an intimate service attended by his immediate family. A grand celebration of life will take place in safer times.