SOJC Professor Emeritus Roy Paul Nelson died at 6:45 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, at his home in Durham, Oregon. He was 86.
Nelson was inducted into the SOJC’s Hall of Achievement in 2002 for “his wide-ranging expertise, absolutely invaluable to a journalism department that had just more than a dozen faculty members when he joined.”
As a teacher, Nelson took on large-enrollment classes with ease and was equally successful in his publishing career. For 25 years, he wrote a monthly column on design for Communication World magazine. With more than 20 books to his credit, he became one of the nation’s leading authorities on design, layout and magazines. His books The Design of Advertising and Publication Design, among others, extended his teaching from the UO to hundreds of schools across the United States and elsewhere in the world. Since his retirement in 1986, Nelson has continued to produce new editions of two of his books and remains a prominent force in layout and design.
Nelson also understood the School of Journalism from a student’s perspective. He entered the university in 1941 as a freshman, but his education was delayed when he was drafted. Nelson was a lieutenant in the Navy during World War II, serving in the Pacific theater. After returning to the UO to finish his bachelor’s degree in 1947, he worked as an advertising copywriter, a reporter for United Press and the assistant editorial director and district manager for American Forest Products Industries. It was with diverse professional experience that he returned to the SOJC to complete a master’s degree in 1955, during which time he was also an instructor.
He modestly claimed that it was his ability to handle different subjects that led to his appointment as an assistant professor in 1957. Colleagues such as Charles Duncan, Hall of Achievement member, former dean of the school and a friend of Nelson’s, would argue that his most valuable asset was not simply his mastery of journalism but his ability to communicate it.
Also, throughout his career, Nelson worked as a free-lance cartoonist and taught the course Caricature and Graphic Humor to journalism students. His cartoons appeared in papers throughout the country.
At the time of his HOA induction, Everette E. Dennis, ’64, Hall of Achievement member and former dean, said, “Roy Paul Nelson is a multi-talented, omni-competent person who was an inspirational teacher, a masterful writer and scholar who never lost touch with ordinary people, probably because of his penchant for cartooning. I first met him when I was a high school student, and his interest and support has been a sustaining influence for decades now.”
Nelson was “Truly the most amazing man,” Greg Kerber, Assistant Dean for Student Services, says. “His door was always open to his students. And I think we lost track of how many books he published.”
“I was brought in to replace Roy Paul. Talk about Mission Impossible,” SOJC Professor Bill Ryan says. “Paul was one of the most compassionate, insightful and sensitive fellows I’ve ever known. A master of everything: design, cartooning, typography, and an amazingly humane and generous person. And, as Greg points out, a prolific and gifted writer. I’ll miss him dearly.”
“He was my teacher when I came here to grad school, and he completely changed my stereotype of the professor—and opened the door for me to think of myself in that way,” Professor Lauren Kessler says. “He was a prolific writer, and that showed me something too. After I graduated and moved away, I came back to Eugene to visit, and I always stayed with Roy Paul and Marie. Paul and I played catch on Onyx Street in front of his house. He had quite an arm. When I joined the faculty, he was prouder of me than my own father—not that, Scandanavian to the core, he showed it. I wish those of you who never knew him, could have.”
Your memories of Roy Paul Nelson:
“I remember Roy Paul Nelson as a most compassionate and understanding instructor. He was the best listener and always made time to listen. I only attended U of O two years before marrying and moving to CA but he was a caring person to me as I adjusted to University life. He surprised me when he said that I seemed more of a psychologist than journalist but he perceived me correctly. I am a 63 year old PhD psychologist who has been in private practice since 1982. I maintain an interest in journalism however. I currently write the newsletter for our large private practice and I enjoy the task. I have also written a weekly a newspaper column and had a daily radio show about psychology for many years. My eyes were moist as I read of his passing and it was so many years ago that I talked with him. His caring, kindness, and words had a lasting influence.”
—Barbara Helen Crist Yelverton PhD
“I studied with Professor Nelson in 1981 as a graduate student. I took his class on Publication Design and loved it. A couple of years later, I sheepishly wrote Prof. Nelson for a recommendation and forgave him in advance if he didn’t remember me from the thousands of students who came through his classes. Not only did he write a recommendation, but he went on to say that, of course he remembered me: He’d used one of my layout assignments for redesigning a newspaper front page as an illustration in a new edition to his textbook. I realized, here was a man who loved teaching and loved his students. As much as I stood in awe of Prof. Ken Metzler for his gruff, this-is-the-way-it-is exterior, I loved Prof. Nelson for his warmth, compassion and approachability.”
—Michael F. Tevlin, M.A. ’81
“I remember one time getting a call from him. He wanted to include one of the ads I had just done for Honda in his book, “The Design of Advertising.” That ad won a lot of awards that year. But getting in his book, now that was an honor. He was a sweet and generous man.”
—Jack Fund ’86
“Wow, what a loss is that of Roy Nelson. After “floating” my first two quarters at UofO, searching for the choice of a major, I enrolled in Nelson’s Introduction to Journalism class for the Spring term. Quickly because of Roy Nelson and the enthusiasm he brought to the course, I became convinced to (again) change my major, so that at the start of my Sophomore year, I declared Journalism as my major. I shall never forget the outstanding “discussions” he led during this course in Allen Hall. He was what teaching was all about. I, too, followed with interest the publications of his many cartoons, and I truly envied his skills at this craft, as well as his skills at layout and design. Roy Paul Nelson changed my life. He will be greatly missed, I’m sure, by all his life touched.
—Joe Hoffmann ’65
Santa Clara, CA
“Roy Paul Nelson was a lovely man, the rare kind of person who made all the students he taught want to do their best, just to please him. The U of O has lost a gem.”
—Stephanie Fox, MA 1984