Following the death of Nelson C. Andrews on Saturday, leading voices in Nashville have spoken out in tribute:
Nelson had a profound influence on me, over many years, and I'm only one of thousands in our city who can make that statement.
Whenever I would become discouraged in one or another of the many civic projects we worked on together, it was always Nelson who would remind you of the bigger picture – and to have hope, and don't let the naysayers get you down, and just work harder in spite of them. I remember he would end almost every phone call we had over the years with the words "Be of good cheer!"
— Keel Hunt, The Strategy Group. Hunt worked closely with Andrews on the Nashville's Agenda civic planning projects and on the Davidson Group, an effort to improve racial harmony in Nashville.
Nelson saw the world from another perspective and intuitively understood subtleties that passed others by. He was not afraid of risk, the unusual, the new, the different. I wonder how history would have changed if he lived in America in 1776, France in 1789 or Russia in 1917. In 1989, he gave me daily reports on the events in Tienanmen Square.
His drink of choice was root beer and his favorite mode of transportation was a unicycle.
— Justin Wilson, Tennessee Comptroller
I went to have breakfast one day with Nelson to discuss writing a story on Watauga. Nobody had ever mentioned Watauga in print before. Nelson seemed receptive to the idea of a story and he brought Ken Roberts along. We met at the Vanderbilt Plaza for breakfast. It was 7:30 in the morning. Ken and I had cereal. Nelson ordered a cheeseburger. I mentioned to Nelson that that was an interesting order. He then launched into the dietary reasons why it made sense. At that point you understood Nelson walked to the beat of his own drummer.
Nelson ended up deciding to tell me the entire history of Watauga. At the same time, he told me I needed to be in Leadership Nashville, which I really didn't want to do. Every time I would call Nelson up to interview him some more about Watauga, he would ask if I had gotten the Leadership Nashville application in the mail. In successive phone calls, he was asking why I had not sent in the application, that they were waiting on it, and that the deadline had long passed.
He never got angry or upset, nor did he ever say anything like, "Look, I decided to help you with this story on Watauga, and the quid pro quo was that you would apply to Leadership Nashville." But one day, in another of our conversations, he told me, "Bruce, a lot of people think they know a lot, and they get to Leadership Nashville, and they figure out they were wrong."
Nelson was telling me I was a cocky little you-know-what, in his own gentle way, and that humility might help me learn.
I enrolled in Leadership Nashville that next year.
— Bruce Dobie, Dobie Media, former editor of the Nashville Scene
I've had something of relationship with Nelson Andrews all my life. When I was child, I often shopped at his McClure's Store in Hillsboro Village. As a young adult, my wife and I brought one of his remodeled homes in the Brookside neighborhood off White Bridge Road, where we raised our daughters, and still live today over 30 years later.
But the first time I remember actually meeting Nelson Andrews was my very first day in Leadership Nashville back in September, 1982 while I still a reporter at Channel 5.
We were going through an orientation session at the Opryland Hotel. In front of the whole class, he looked sternly at me and at The Tennessean's Frank Ritter, who was also in the group, and warned us not to report what was said during our monthly sessions. That was to encourage a free and open discussion about the matters we dealt with, among our classmates, and from those who spoke to us.
I have never forgotten that and I will never forget Nelson. As I came to know him over the years, I was (and remain) amazed at how many parts of Nashville he touched and made better over the years. I believe no one has had a more positive impact on our community in my 57-year lifetime. That is particularly true in the area of breaking down barriers and encouraging communication between whites and blacks in our city.
But few people in the general public really knew that, and Nelson seemed to like it that way.
Back in the summer of 2001, I was lucky enough to be chosen to put together a video celebrating the silver anniversary of the founding of Leadership Nashville back in 1976. One of the major focuses of the piece was, of course, Nelson, who was given the assignment by the city's secretive Watauga Group, made up of the Nashville's major business leaders, to check out the idea of creating this leadership group.
Nelson, of course, did much more than that. He not only helped found the group, but remaining a driving force within it right up until the moment he passed away. But despite all those who offered tributes to him in my 2001 video, Nelson repeatedly tried to downplay his role, giving the credit to others like Brent Poulton, Corrine Franklin, Eddie Jones or Jerry Williams.
What Nelson seemed happiest about was that Leadership Nashville had persevered over the years and that the quality and diversity of the emerging and current leadership in our community continues to grow. He's right about that, as he was about so many things. But I think I am also right when I say how lucky Nashville has been to have a leader like Nelson Andrews in our midst these past many years. There will never be another quite like him. May he rest in peace.
— Pat Nolan, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
Nelson Andrews helped shape Nashville into the great city it is today, and he played an instrumental role in shaping Vanderbilt into one of the greatest institutions in the world. I valued Nelson's advice and counsel and always was buoyed by his optimism and can-do attitude, no matter the challenges. The success of Nashville – and Vanderbilt – is part of Nelson's rich and enduring legacy.
— Nicholas S. Zeppos, Vanderbilt Chancellor
If Nashville had a Mount Rushmore, Nelson Andrews would be on it. He cared for this city, its institutions, people and future like no one else. We might not ever know all the great things Nelson accomplished because many were done behind the scenes and through his influence with others.
Nelson was giving of his time and advice and was the mentor to the entire city. If a new CEO or college President came to town, he was often the first person they would have lunch with and usually they would end up in the next class of Leadership Nashville.
Leadership Nashville, the organization he founded, has had a huge positive impact on our city. Although it is a program for established leaders, Nelson Andrews created more leaders in the Nashville than anyone else in Nashville’s long history.
Nelson’s legacy will continue through Leadership Nashville, his wife, family and children and the thousands of people he influenced during his life.
— David Ewing, Attorney, Rudy, Wood & Winstead
Nelson Andrews came from a generation that believed in unwavering service to country and community, and he challenged others to be change-agents and social innovators as well. Although 40 years separated us in age, I was extremely fond of Nelson and greatly admired the model of leadership he demonstrated to me and to the community at large. Nelson's indirect leadership style said to others, "You don't have to be elected to office to make a difference. You just go make change happen. And, hey, don't worry about who gets the credit for it." Truly, this is a lesson for all of us.
Nelson also realized that leadership wasn't something to be confined to the corporate boardroom. He believed that leadership was best walked out in the community. When Nelson first talked with me and Lipscomb President Randy Lowry about becoming the administrators for The Davidson Group, he challenged us to think about the diverse community in which we lived by asking, "How many Kurds have you had into your home for dinner? How many Somalians do you personally know?" He knew that social progress would be achieved one relationship at a time.
Nelson Andrews wasn't a "can do" kind of person... instead he was a "will do" kind of man. When he saw a need or a challenge, he always responded with "I will do something about it." And, his legacy reveals the fruits of his "will do" spirit of service... a legacy which we must all continue through the programs and organizations he founded. Nelson will be greatly missed in Nashville, and beyond.
— Charla Long, Lipscomb University's Institute for Law, Justice & Society; Administrator for The Davidson Group
Nelson epitomized the old cliché “thinking out of the box.” I first met him in 1975 while I was president of Fidelity Federal Savings and Loan. Nelson had an agreement to purchase about 100 aging duplexes known as Brookside Court located on both sides of White Bridge Road, and someone had referred him to me to assist in financing the acquisition.
Nelson’s vision was to convert each duplex into a single family home and sell it as such. The banks had struggled with the concept and complexity of a single loan on all the duplexes with release provisions as each was converted to single family and sold. After discussion, we both felt it would be simpler to have separate loans on each duplex that could be paid off as they were sold with Fidelity having the preference to provide traditional home financing for the new owners. It turned out to be an extremely profitable venture for Nelson, and a very good deal for Fidelity.
This launched a wonderful relationship between Nelson and me in real estate matters. There were many questionable comments about Nelson’s idea to develop Riverfront Apartments under the old Kerrigan Iron Works steel structure north of downtown in an industrial area. By then I was a mortgage banker and managed to place the loan with an “untraditional” lender. The project was successful, and Nelson allowed me, years later, to refinance it with another lender.
Another project that should be written up as a case study was Wildwood Acres, another old duplex complex located in Tampa, Florida. Nelson and Lee Noel purchased it with bank financing and later converted it to a condominium type structure where each dwelling unit could be sold. Many of these units were sold to investors in the early 1980’s at prices that reflected the strong tax benefits then available under the tax code. After the Tax Act of 1986, those tax benefits began to turn into liabilities.
To their credit, Nelson and Lee began to repurchase those units from investors, and approached me again to arrange financing as a rental project. I was able to arrange such financing only if they could re-acquire 100 percent of the units and operate as a pure rental property. They were able to do this, and we placed a new loan on the rental project. This was like putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again and was accomplished without a lawsuit at a time when developers and syndicators all over the country were going bankrupt.
As in his civic endeavors, Nelson had a vision for his real estate undertakings, and often that vision was unconventional. I accompanied him on one or two occasions when he flew his helicopter around Nashville looking for real estate opportunities.
Among his numerous civic initiatives was his spearheading the concept of The Davidson Group, which was organized to foster one-on-one relationships between leaders of the black community and counterparts in the white community. I was paired with Francis Guess, and we’ve remained friends since. If racial situations arise in Nashville that need defusing, Davidson Group members are comfortable talking to their counterparts to try to alleviate any problems.
I am thankful to have enjoyed both a business and a personal relationship with Nelson and Sue. In recent years, our offices have been in the same Green Hills office building, and it was a joy to be able to see Nelson on almost a daily basis. I will miss him. Nashville will miss him. I loved the man.
— Stephen Wood Sr., veteran Nashville real estate finance professional (and father of NashvillePost.com's E. Thomas Wood)
What I loved about Nelson Andrews was his genuineness and originality. He loved root beer, simple pleasures, the bridging of our city through race, communication, and public and private partnership. He fought for equity in athletics and great teaching – in both the state Department of Education and MBA and Vanderbilt.
He believed in strong leadership and commitment to every level in an organization. He loved public service and private business, sought no honor and received almost every accolade in our city, believed in always learning and growing personally, and faithfully and unwaveringly loved his friends and family.
— Bradford Gioia, Headmaster, Montgomery Bell Academy
There are only a few tall trees in the forest, but Nelson was the tallest. He sheltered and inspired countless Tennesseans.
— Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), Member of Congress
I got to know Nelson well on the tennis court, as a frequent member of his regular doubles game beginning in the mid-1990s. Our conversation between games invariably was about education – how the school board and the director were performing, the challenges facing big urban school districts, the prospects for creating a great school system.
Nelson knew as well as anyone the difficulties of building an excellent public school system, but it was always clear he considered it an attainable goal and that failing to do so meant we weren't trying hard enough or weren't being smart enough. I am inspired by that attitude and the relentless enthusiasm he mustered for the task.
Nelson dreamed big dreams, but they never seemed unrealistic coming from him. He didn't waste time – my standard request about how much warm-up he needed before a tennis match always elicited the response, "I warmed up in the car." And for me he reinforced the really critical, pivotal lessons my father tried to instill – finish things you start, work harder than others, and anything you choose to do, do with enthusiasm.
Nelson was everyone's best role model. I was lucky to have shared some of this great man's life.
— David A. Fox, Chairman, Nashville Board of Education; co-founder and former proprietor of NashvillePost.com
Nashville’s nonprofit community has lost a true friend and vigorous advocate with the passing of Nelson Andrews. He used his talents, his intelligence and his passion to cultivate strong nonprofits and a strong community. His good humor and wit were legendary, and he generously shared what he knew with hundreds of prospective leaders.
He challenged all of us, regardless of age, experience or income, to make the community stronger. Nelson Andrews’ contributions to Nashville’s civic life are priceless, but his most enduring legacy is his children, who share his passion for making our community great.
— Meredith Libbey, Chair, Center for Nonprofit Management
A couple of weeks ago I spent my 13th Leadership Nashville Closing Retreat weekend with Nelson. He led this year’s class in their final caucus has he always did. While his ailments were clearly catching up to him, he never complained, his voice remained strong, and clearly seeing this class through to the end was a passion.
He told the same stories I had heard 12 times before, each emphasized a point about leadership and following your passions. And as I had 12 times before, I listened to glean one more point to again be inspired. He delivered. He always did.
He will be missed by all who knew him and by more who did not.
— Richard Exton, Manier and Exton Real Estate Appraisers
I knew Nelson best through my close friendships with his oldest son, Carter, and his nephew, Doug. On our weekly bike rides, we often talked of Nelson, his business acumen and most of all, his practical wisdom and common sense about people and life in general. On most rides there were discussions of work problems. And those problems inevitably were the result of issues with people who worked with us or for us. As family, Carter and Doug received more than their fair share of mentoring from Nelson, so these discussions would most often involve a lot of “Dad says” or “you know what Uncle Nels would say,” and Nelson it seemed would often have simple solutions for what I considered to be complex problems.
On one particular ride I was discussing a certain longtime employee who had attitude and performance issues and who I, after months of anguish, had finally decided to terminate. So I asked Doug and Carter, “when do you think is the best time to fire someone?” obviously expecting an answer such as “Friday afternoon” or “first thing Monday morning” along with the reasoning to support it. And Doug replied, “you know what Uncle Nels says, don’t you?” “Uncle Nels says the best time to fire someone is the first time you think about it.”
Anyone who knew Nelson knows that this advice is to be taken not so much in the literal sense but as a recommendation to deal with problems now, not later. That’s something Nelson did better than anyone, and our city is a better place for it.
— Albie Del Favero, Nashville Group Publisher, Southcomm Inc.
Integrity, courage and humility are the strengths that carried General Frank Andrews through every trial he endured and to every success, as a team leader. These values have been instilled in his nephew, Mr. Nelson Andrews, enabling him to become a successful leader and mentor to those who continue to follow him and heed his coaching.
— Davis J. Fairfax, who earned a Master in Public Administration in 2008 from Tennessee State University's College of Public Service and Urban Affairs, and who interviewed Nelson Andrews last year when writing a paper about Lieutenant General Frank M. Andrews
Every so often a person comes along who gives you inspiration for a better future.
Serving as president of the Nashville Area Junior Chamber of Commerce, I am proud to say that I share a common path with Mr. Nelson Andrews as leader of this storied organization. Nelson, a past president of the group and the 2008 NAJCC Community Leadership & Service Award winner, served the youthful leadership of Nashville with a smile and glimmer in his eye. He spoke of our responsibility to others, our community and those still to follow. Humbly, I am also proud to say that I had the opportunity to know him personally, even for a short while.
As a recent graduate of the Leadership Nashville class of 2008-2009, my experiences with Nelson solidified the legend of this great man – from his youthful enthusiasm for square dancing to his marked intolerance for racial injustice. His character was a blueprint for personal responsibility coupled with humanity.
In service as a young leader within the Nashville community, I thank Nelson Andrews for his commitment to our collective betterment. May I and the Nashville Junior Chamber serve others in way that will make him proud.
— Zachary Barker, President, Nashville Area Junior Chamber of Commerce
Another article, at this link, features links to audio snippets from an oral history interview with Andrews, conducted in 2006.