HELENA — Edward William Nelson was born in Billings on Jan. 11, 1925, to Lewis and Minerva (Smith) Nelson. He passed away on Nov. 30, 2009, in Helena, his home for the past 52 years, after a brief, but challenging, illness.
As a young man he attended schools in Columbus and Reed Point, spending much of his youth exploring the Yellowstone River and developing a great love of the outdoors. He left Columbus High School in 1943 and joined the Army, serving in World War II.
Following the Army, he attended the University of Montana, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1952. While in college, he met his wife of 57 years, Evelyn (Hoffman), on a very lucky St. Patrick’s Day blind date. They married in Great Falls on Aug. 24, 1952, shortly after his graduation from college.
Following their marriage, they moved to Missoula, where Ed worked at the Western Montana National Bank. In 1955, they had their first son, Mark. They moved to Helena in 1957, when Ed became Chief Accountant for the State Office of Public Instruction. In March 1959, he became the Research Director for the Montana Taxpayers Association. In June of that year, their daughter Ruth was born.
In May 1961, by appointment of Governor Nutter, he became Montana State Budget Director, where he developed the first Executive Budget Plan. The Executive Budget Plan provided an analysis of state budget needs and revenue potential prior to the legislative session. His businesslike approach to the budget process was considered a true advancement in the budget process and his work was praised by state administrators, legislators, and taxpayers. During that year his second son, Paul was born.
In July 1963, he was appointed to a new position, Acting Director of the Montana Department of Public Institutions, where he created the foundation for combining nine state institutions under one director and department. At the time an editorial in the July 17, 1963, Helena Independent Record stated that under his leadership “a new day has arrived in the management of Montana’s public institutions.”
In 1964, he served as Administrative Assistant to Governor Babcock and welcomed his fourth child, Jean, into the world. In 1965, he was appointed to Executive Secretary of the Montana University System. From 1965 to 1973, he served in that position under the administrations of both Governor Babcock and Governor Anderson and represented the State of Montana on the Western Interstate Council of Higher Education.
In 1974, he became the Executive Vice President of the Montana Taxpayers Association and spent the next several years, as he had in previous positions, working in the hallways of the State Capitol. The final position of his career began in 1978 as Director of the Montana Guaranteed Student Loan Program, where he developed the initial structure of lending for the program. He retired in 1987. He once made a speech to a university graduating class, where he said that genius was “to do the ordinary thing uncommonly well,” throughout his service to the State of Montana and its citizens, he always worked to meet this goal.
Ed was a lifelong learner and, though he was a man of few words, many people were amazed at his ability to discuss nearly any topic from the details of Montana property tax structure to medieval history. He also gave his service to his community as the Building Chairman for the construction of Plymouth Congregational Church and several leadership positions in the church. He also served as President of the Montana Association of Executives and Commodore of the Gates of the Mountains Boat Club.
Throughout his life, he enjoyed hiking with lifelong friends of the Wilderness Wanderers group or canoeing with family on Swan Lake. During his retirement many happy times were spent traveling with Evelyn to all 50 states, England, Puerto Rico, and the Panama Canal. He also gathered with his family at the “cabin,” which he built with his family and his own hands, on Swan Lake.
He was a loving husband, father, grandfather and brother. He leaves behind his wife, Evelyn (Hoffman), son Mark (Robin), daughter Ruth (Dan) Rinck, son Paul (Page), and daughter Jean (Bill Dean) Nelson-Dean. He will be fondly remembered by his six grandchildren, Micah Nelson, Kelly and Scott Rinck, Jacob Nelson, and Zachary and Mattea Dean. Survivors include his brother Lewis O. (Eunice) Nelson and several nieces and nephews.
Services are scheduled at 3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, at the Plymouth Congregational Church. A private family interment will take place at a later date. Cremation has taken place.
Memorials can be made in his honor to Plymouth Congregational Church, 400 S. Oaks, Helena, MT 59601; the Salvation Army, 1905 Henderson, Helena, MT 59601 or a charity of your choice.