[Updated 12:59 p.m. Saturday with funeral information]
Nelson Andrews died last night after a long illness, leaving behind a legacy of civic handiwork unparalleled in the history of Nashville. He was 82.
Andrews played a decisive role in the creation of Vanderbilt's Children's Hospital, Leadership Nashville, the Nashville Alliance for Public Education and the Better Business Bureau of Nashville/Middle Tennessee, among other local institutions. As chairman of the Tennessee Board of Education in the 1980s and 1990s, he shepherded the creation of a new funding mechanism for the state's public schools. At the time of his passing, he was chairman of the Tennessee Tax Structure Study Commission.
He threw himself into such initiatives cheerfully, displaying a remarkable capacity to build consensus among people of disparate backgrounds and interests. To the extent possible, he avoided or deflected attention to his guiding role and sought to ensure that all involved shared in the credit.
"Magnanimous people don't think less of themselves," Andrews was fond of saying. "They just think of themselves less."
Andrews came from a family with Nashville roots but was born in Washington, D.C., the son of a career Army officer who was then being treated at Walter Reed General Hospital for the effects of mustard gas poisoning he had suffered during the First World War. The father's assignments in the Corps of Engineers took him and his family to the Panama Canal Zone, the San Francisco Bay area and several other locations before they settled in Nashville during his high-school years.
Nelson's uncle was Lieutenant General Frank Maxwell Andrews, the military aviation pioneer for whom Andrews Air Force Base is named. Andrews had fond memories of sitting in the co-pilot's seat of the general's command aircraft on a pleasure cruise over Nashville in the late 1930s.
He graduated as valedictorian of Montgomery Bell Academy's class of 1945. Taking up an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy with the encouragement of General Andrews' widow, he played for two years on West Point’s undefeated, national champion football team alongside Heisman Trophy winners Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis.
Andrews won the academy's title of the Best of the Cadets in Physical Condition. However, deciding against military life, he resigned his commission in 1947 and returned to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt. There he was injured in the first day of fall football practice. He refused the job of water boy, costing him his scholarship. He covered his college costs in part by creating a hillbilly band, the Tennessee Dew Drops, and by playing poker. He was elected president of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.
At Vanderbilt, he met Sue Adams. They married just after graduation in 1949.
Andrews began his career in Nashville at the A. J. Smith Co. He was later president of McClure's Department Stores before founding Brookside Properties, a real estate firm with residential and commercial holdings across the Southeast.
Chosen as Man of the Year by Nashville's Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1955, Andrews served as president of the group in 1958 and led its efforts to promote the adoption of metropolitan government in Nashville and Davidson County. He chaired the Nashville–Davidson County Red Cross in 1965 and became president of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce in 1970.
Perhaps more influential than any of those roles was his status as a core member of the Watauga group. As memorably chronicled by Bruce Dobie in a 2002 Nashville Scene article, Watauga was a secret society of Nashville business leaders devoted to long-range civic planning. It was a prime mover behind the creation of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority and Leadership Nashville, among other initiatives, and it quietly pushed for improvements in public education and race relations.
Although Watauga was an initiative of the city's business elite, it served as a forerunner of the city-wide visioning process that came to be called Nashville's Agenda, in which several thousand Nashvillians have taken part in identifying goals for the city's future. Andrews was an early proponent of Nashville's Agenda and served on both its original steering committee in 1993 and the guiding body of its 2007 update.
Leadership Nashville, founded in 1976 for the stated purpose of giving "a three-dimensional view of this city" to its current and emerging leaders from all fields of endeavor, remained a cause close to Andrews' heart for the rest of his life. Just two weeks ago, although gravely ill and using a motorized scooter, he attended the group's annual retreat.
Andrews was a trustee emeritus of Vanderbilt University and a longtime trustee of Montgomery Bell Academy. He also served in various capacities for Belmont and David Lipscomb Universities.
Among the many honors and awards bestowed on him were the Pencil Foundation’s E. Bronson Ingram Award, the Montgomery Bell Academy Distinguished Alumnus Award, the Nashville Public School System’s School Bell Award, the American Cancer Society’s John C. Tune Award, the Kiwanis Outstanding Nashvillian of the Year Award, and the National Council of Christians and Jews Brotherhood Award. Easter Seals Tennessee announced earlier this year that he was to be named its Nashvillian of the Year, in a ceremony set for next week. Family members say the event will go on as scheduled, serving as a celebration of his life.
Known a ferocious sporting competitor and a man of many talents, Andrews provided the following list of hobbies in 1990: "Helicopter pilot, racquetball (former city and state champion), tennis, musician, silversmith, unicyclist, apiarist" (i.e. beekeeper).
His brother, James David Andrews III, predeceased him. Surviving him are his wife of 60 years, Susan Adams Andrews: daughter Susan Toy Andrews (Randall Rickard); son Nelson Carter Andrews Jr. (Nanette Piot Andrews); daughter Judith Ann Andrews; son Adam “Lep” Gillespie Andrews (Tami Jones Andrews); son Frank Maxwell Andrews (Denise Wiley Matlock Andrews); sisters-in-law, Evalina Harwell Andrews and Faith Adams Young; and 21 grandchildren.
Visitation will take place Monday from 4 to 7 p.m. at St. George's Episcopal Church, 104 Belle Meade Blvd., Nashville. The funeral service at 3 p.m. Tuesday will be followed by a reception at St. George's.
The family has stated that in lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, 3833 Cleghorn Ave. #400, Nashville, TN 37215.
NashvillePost.com is publishing a separate article with remembrances of Mr. Andrews by some of the many people whose lives he touched. That story will be continually updated this weekend as we receive comments. We welcome any anecdotes and memories you would like to share. Just click the byline above to e-mail them to the author (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Another article, at this link, features links to audio snippets from an oral history interview with Andrews, conducted in 2006.