Monday, July 22, 2019

Rolla Clayborne Nelson – Obituary

Rolla Clayborne Nelson of Wilmington, N.C. died Monday, October 2, 2017 after a brief illness. He was born to Osee and Rolla Nelson on February 16, 1924 in Grantsburg, Illinois. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was a member of the occupational forces after the Normandy (D-Day) invasion in World War II until he was severely burned in a fire. He was hospitalized in Paris, France and later transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was hospitalized for over 15 months.

In June of 1945 he married Anne Laura Barbour who survives along with their 3 children and their spouses, R. Michael Nelson and Tannis, Gregory O. Nelson and Beth, Mary Nelson Harwood and Stan. Also surviving are grandchildren: Kyle Nelson, Clay Harwood, Melissa Harwood Shaw, Laura Nelson Ford, Steven Nelson and eleven great grandchildren.

A Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he received his Bachelor and Master’s degrees, Rolla began his career teaching physics at Needham Broughton High School in Raleigh. In 1955 the family moved to Wilmington where he was employed by Carolina Power and Light Co. In 1961 he began teaching physics at Wilmington College and was very active in the transition of Wilmington College to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He established the University’s Department of Physics and served as the first Chairman. In addition to teaching physics he enjoyed teaching Astronomy and Science for Elementary Teachers for a number of years. He retired from the University in 1985 and was honored with Assistant Professor Emeritus status. Among his active service and involvement with the University Rolla was a member of the Order of Isaac Bear. The Order recognizes those who have demonstrated loyalty to UNCW, contributed to the academic quality of the University and had a significant role in uniting the institution and the community.

Rolla was devoted to his faith and his Church where he served in numerous areas of leadership during the past 57 years, including Chair of the Board of Deacons, teacher of the Omega Sunday School class and as a member of various committees of the Church.

He was an avid golfer and led in the formation of the Wilmington Senior Golf League. During his adult life Rolla achieved five holes-in-one; the last hole-in-one was at the age of eighty-nine. He loved the outdoors and in his younger years enjoyed quail hunting. He was a gardener who took great pride in his yard and the birds who ate well from his birdfeeders. He also enjoyed growing seasonal vegetables and sharing them generously with family, friends and neighbors.

Funeral services will be held at 2:30 PM, Thursday, October 5, 2017 at Pine Valley Baptist Church with the Rev. Melvin Hall officiating. The family will greet friends beginning at 1:30 PM in the Omega Sunday School Classroom at the rear of the sanctuary. Interment will follow the service at Greenlawn Memorial Park.

If desired, memorial gifts may be sent to Pine Valley Baptist Church or Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, PO Box 338, Thomasville, N.C. 27360.

Condolences may be left for the family at

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