Cover photo for Keith W. Nelson's Obituary
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1936 Keith 2021

Keith W. Nelson

October 8, 1936 — February 14, 2021

Keith W. Nelson October 8, 1936 – February 14, 2021

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved daddy, grandpa, brother, uncle, friend, and sponsor, Keith W. Nelson.

Keith was born in Dayton, Ohio to the late William Nelson and Evelyn (Sinks) Nelson. He grew up in Dayton with his two younger brothers, Bill and Wally. He famously got in trouble on his first day of school for dipping a little girl's pigtail into an inkwell. It was an inauspicious start to a lifetime as a charmer.

Keith graduated from Patterson Co-Op High School in 1954. Eager to see the world, he immediately enlisted in the Navy, much to his mother's dismay. As he was 17, his mother's signature was needed to enlist and it remains an open question as to who actually signed the papers. In any event, he was off to great adventures at sea. He shipped out to the Pacific where he was deployed to Japan and was part of the US security presence at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 on the U.S.S. Bremerton. Keith carried many fond memories of his time in the Navy.

After the Navy, he returned to Ohio and attended Ohio State University in Columbus where he embraced his lifelong calling as a philosopher poet, which ultimately did not lead to graduation or a degree. While philosophizing one day, he was dared to drive a nail through his hand to test his commitment to the teachings of Stoicism. This show of bravado caught the attention of fellow student Leda Serey and after a whirlwind six-week courtship, they were married in 1961.

After Ohio State, Keith and Leda began a decade long odyssey of driving back and forth across the country seven times. They lived in New York City and various parts of California including Inverness, where Keith developed a lifelong love for the beauty and nature of Big Sur. Their first daughter, Lisa, was born in Los Angeles in 1964. Thereafter, the family continued traveling, including throughout Mexico. They spent the Summer of Love in San Francisco. They eventually settled in Connecticut where their second daughter, Kirsten, was born in 1970. It was not a conventional way to spend your twenties and thirties, but that free-spirited wanderlust defined Keith for the rest of his life.

After 16 years of marriage, Keith and Leda divorced. Keith moved to the Washington D.C. area but kept ever present in his daughter's lives, taking them hiking, camping, and on memorable summer trips. In 1981, harkening back to his younger days, Keith packed his 16 and 10 year old daughters into an unairconditioned Chevy Nova and drove them cross country to California and back. His daughters cherish their memories of this trip.

A defining moment for Keith came in 1976 when he embraced sobriety. For the next 45 years, Alcoholics Anonymous was central to his life as both a member and a sponsor. It would be hard to overstate the significance that AA played in Keith's life for almost five decades. To the end, even during the pandemic, he attended weekly virtual meetings. Throughout these years, he sponsored and helped hundreds of people in their struggles with alcoholism and addiction. His daughters feel blessed that they got another lifetime with Keith because he made the brave and loving choice of sobriety.

Over the years, Keith had many great loves. He was a great romantic, a consummate charmer and an unabashed flirt. It is fitting that Keith passed on Valentine's Day. Keith spent his professional life as a theatrical promoter, a job that also put him on the road, traveling around the east coast. In later years, Keith continued to travel and he spent time living in Delaware and Florida. Keith eventually settled in Cleveland with his late love, Rita DiLauro. Rita's family took Keith into their hearts and treated him as an honorary member of their family.

Keith was a big man, with flowing hair. He wore berets, bright shirts, and self-made beaded necklaces around his neck. He had a deep, booming voice. He was prone to pontificate on anything and everything. He was an avid chess player and loved jazz. While his body allowed, he ran or walked at least 50 miles a week and competed in many road races. He was well read, very intelligent, and could discuss many topics with fluency. He made an impression on everyone he met. He had a joyous and curious spirit that never stopped exploring.

Keith is survived by his darling daughters Lisa Finnegan of Armagh, Northern Ireland and Kirsten Cunha of New York, New York; his grandson Theodore (Teddy) Cunha; his brother and sister-in-law William and Donna Nelson; his sons-in-law, James Finnegan and Mark Cunha; and his nieces Tricha Coy, Angie Smith, and Sandy Manson. He is predeceased by his brother Wallace Nelson.

Keith was larger than life and his passing leaves a large void in the hearts of those who knew him. He once said that he fell in love many times a day. If life is measured in love, Keith had a great life. We will miss him dearly.


Virtual funeral services will be held at 5:15 p.m. on Friday, February 19, 2021. You are invited to attend at the following link:
Meeting ID: 852 0934 1320
Passcode: love

We will be planning a Celebration of Life Memorial for Keith in the coming weeks. Please check back on this page for details.
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Keith W. Nelson, please visit our flower store.


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