Campus mourns Professor H. Alan Nelson '46

Publication Date

Prof. H. Alan Nelson ’46, professor emeritus of English and a genial campus advocate for good writing, died June 3, 2016, at his home in Saratoga Springs. He was 92.

He joined the faculty in 1954 as an instructor of English, and rose to full professor. During his tenure, he served as associate dean of faculty, department chair, and as a member of numerous tenure and ad hoc committees.

At Nelson’s retirement in 1989, the late Prof. William Murphy praised his colleague’s “pervasive and long-lasting” influence on curriculum, academic standards, student behavior and faculty morale.

A specialist in rhetoric, composition and linguistics, Nelson was a frequent source for students and colleagues who turned to him for writing help. “His principal contribution to us all has been as unsleeping guardian of the purity of the mother tongue, protecting it against assailants within and without the walls,” Prof. Murphy said. “He taught the virtues of correctness, elegance and clarity.”

He is well remembered as founder and director of the College’s Writing Center. It was not a “fix it shop” for re-writes, Nelson said at the center’s opening in 1984, but a place where students could get help from tutors in the process of writing. Urging for proactivity, he added, “The earlier you come, the more they can help you. Prenatal care is better than a post mortem.”

Nelson loved campus news and often visited around campus to share the latest. He frequented the Office of Public Relations, where he was a resource for news, grammar and style. He was a fixture at ReUnions and other alumni events. A fan of classical music, he enjoyed the Union College Concert Series.

A native of Erie, Pa., he arrived at Union at the height of World War II and was enrolled in the Navy V-12 officer training program. He was a member of the College band, glee club and Sigma Chi fraternity. He wrote for the Idol. After earning his A.B. in English, he served the Navy as an anti-submarine officer aboard the U.S.S. Coolbaugh, a destroyer escort.

He earned a master’s and Ph.D. in English from Northwestern University. He was a member and past board member of the National Council of Teachers of English, and a member and past fellow of the New York State English Council.

Survivors include his wife, Phyllis; two daughters, Peggy B. Seward and Mary B. Gibbons; two sons, Hugh and Peter; 13 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife, Marjorie; and his son, Michael W. Beson.

Arrangements are private. Contributions may be made to St. Peter’s ALS Regional Center, 19 Warehouse Row, Albany, N.Y. 12205 in memory of Michael W. Beson, or to Community Hospice Foundation, 295 Valley View Rd., Rensselaer, N.Y. 12144.