The Rev. Dr. Roberta M. “Bobbie” Nelson died on January 2, 2015 at the age of 79.
Bobbie was born on June 9, 1935 to Raymond A. Martin and Vera R. Martin. She graduated from Tufts University, with a Bachelor of Science, in 1958. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Meadville Lombard Theological School in 1996.
Bobbie was certified as an Accredited Director of Religious Education by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in 1967. She served as Director of Religious Education to First Parish in Needham, MA from 1959 to 1973, and to Fairfax Unitarian Church of Oakton, VA from 1973 to 1980. She was ordained to the ministry in 1980 by the Fairfax Church, and then served as their Minister of Religious Education from 1980 to 1987. She went on to serve as Minister of Religious Education to Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church of Bethesda, MD from 1987 to 2001, and was named their Minister Emerita in 2002.
Rev. Nelson stayed engaged with the denomination at large throughout the entirety of her career, and was involved in groundbreaking projects. She was active within the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA), and served as Secretary, Vice-President and President. She chaired the Sexuality Education Task Force, a former project of the UUA and United Church of Christ (UCC), and served on the UUA and Meadville Lombard joint Envisioning Committee concerning the Transition of the Independent Study Program (ISP) from the UUA to Meadville Lombard, and the establishment of the Sophia Lyon Fahs Center at Meadville Lombard. She was an advisor to candidates in the ISP and Modified Residency Program from 1971 to 2008. She served on a myriad of UUA committees, and served on the Board of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) and as vice president from 2001 to 2004.
Rev. Nelson was a major interpreter and trainer of the UUA’s About Your Sexuality (AYS) Program, and led countless AYS teacher training workshops. The program was launched in 1971, and was run by Unitarian Universalist congregations for over 25 years. With her husband, Chris Nelson, Bobbie coauthored the curricula, Parents as Resident Theologians, Parents as Spiritual Guides, and Parents as Social Justice Educators.
Rev. Nelson received the Angus H. MacLean Award for Excellence in Religious Education in 1975; the Larry Axel Award for Teaching Excellence from Meadville Lombard and the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation Ministry to Women Award, both in 2001. In 2002, she was selected as the UUMA’s Berry Street Essayist.
Rev. Nelson’s colleagues and family members recall her willingness to speak up for things that she felt strongly about. “She was never afraid or hesitant,” her husband, Chris Nelson, remembers. Bobbie’s commitment to speaking her truth led her to serve as the spokesperson chosen to defend the About Your Sexuality program when it was under attack on the national television segment, Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel. Former colleague Judith A. Frediani writes, ‘For forty years, when Unitarian Universalist religious education needed a voice, Bobbie spoke out. Whenever leadership was called for, Bobbie was called.”
Bobbie enjoyed traveling, reading, cooking, and entertaining. Post-retirement, she volunteered at an elementary school and treasured the hours she spent with first and second graders.
"A wink or a hint of a smile became her last words but love, courage, and faith sustained her to the end. She died at peace," said her husband, Chris Nelson.
Bobbie is survived by her husband of 54 years, Christopher “Chris” B. Nelson; daughters, Heather Nelson, Joy Saams (John), and Jennifer Nelson; grandchildren Jack, James, and Julia Saams; and brother, Donald A. Martin (Jean).
A memorial service was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth, ME, at 2:00 PM on Saturday, January 10. Another service will be held at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, MD, on Saturday, April 25th at 1 PM.
In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory can be made to: Roberta Nelson Prize for Excellence in Religious Education at Meadville Lombard Theological School, 610 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603 or to The Star Island Corporation Morton-Benedict House, 30 Middle St., Portsmouth, NH 03801
Notes of condolences may be sent to the family at 41 Astbury Lane, Sedgwick, ME 04676-3423.