Edmund Allen Nelson, a retired Steeltin Can executive and a veteran Marine Corps World War II pilot who flew the Pacific, died of COVID complications May 13 at Tidewater Medical Center in Salisbury. The former Timonium resident was 101.
Born on Hoopers Island, he was the son of Oscar Whittington Lewis Nelson, Sr., who owned a seafood processing business, and his wife, Violet White. He attended a one-room school for his first eight grades and was a 1938 graduate of Cambridge High School and what was then known as Strayer Business College in Baltimore.
Mr. Nelson kept extensive autobiographical notes and recalled the life on Hoopers Island. “There were no highways, no railroads, no forests or hills or anything to indicate we were not an enclosed family.”
He also said, “Now and then a ship would pass on the Bay that would remind us that somewhere there were others but we didn’t know them.” As a child, he watched older watermen feed captive terrapins and tend soft crabs in wooden sheds. He also helped out canning tomatoes and picking crabs during the summer months.
There was no ice cream on the island, but when a steamboat called from Baltimore, he and other children had a few minutes to run into the ship’s restaurant and buy a scoop.
He joined the family seafood processing business, White & Nelson in Hoopersville, but soon was accepted into a civilian pilot training program. He then enlisted in the Navy Air Corps. He was called to active duty in 1942, graduated as a naval aviator from Pensacola Naval Air Training Center and was commissioned in the Marine Corps.
During World War II as a pilot in Marine Squadron VMR 352, he flew throughout the Pacific theater and into China and Japan. In a memoir, he recalled 12-hour flights over the Pacific “with nowhere to land but another small island and no gas to spare.”
In 1946, he rejoined White & Nelson in Cambridge and remained in the Marine Reserve as a pilot in VMFA 321 at Andrews Air Force Base. He retired in 1965 as major.
In 1946, he married a World War II nursing student, Anita Marguerite Ross, who lived in Seattle.
Until 1957, Mr. Nelson was manager of his family’s seafood business, White & Nelson, in Cambridge.
According to his autobiography, Mr. Nelson’s father started the company on Hoopers Island in 1912. In the 1940s and early 1950s, it became one of the largest crabmeat and oyster packing operations in the country.
Its plants employed over 400 people and shipments of oysters reached 125,000 gallons a year. The company also operated tomato canning plants at Hoopersville, Crapo and Cambridge, with a fourth seafood plant in Fishing Creek.
While living in Cambridge, he was a charter member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, president of the Cambridge Country Club, and with the late Thomas B. Leonard organized the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Packers Association. He held offices in the Oyster Institute of North America and the Interstate Seafood Packers Association.
Following the sale of the family business in 1956, he joined Steeltin Can Corp., a manufacturer of metal and plastic containers for the seafood industry. He and his family moved to the Valley Crest area of Timonium in Baltimore County. He retired in 1985.
While with Steeltin Can, he participated with the Food & Drug Administration, the Health Departments of several states and the research departments of several universities in developing regulations and procedures for packing fresh and pasteurized crabmeat and oysters. After retirement, he was a Steeltin consultant and worked in equipment development for better food processing in plastic containers for which he received a patent.
Mr. Nelson was a member of the maritime committee of what is now the Maryland Center of History and Culture. He created computer programs and digitized data from many of the museum’s records and files in the years when the organization was known as the Maryland Historical Society.
“He was a fixture here for decades,” said Mark Letzer, the Maryland Center’s president. “He served on our maritime committee since it was formed and maintained files. He had his little office and was a beloved person within the institution.”
The Morning Sun
Mr. Nelson recalled in his memoir that he was one of the leaders in the development of the Fells Point Maritime Museum.
He also wrote “A History of the Oyster Industry” for the Baltimore Museum of Industry that told how the canning of oysters in Baltimore led to the beginning of the food processing industry and can manufacturing industries in the United States.
He traced his family’s arrival to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1610 aboard the ship Starr.
Mr. Nelson recalled that he “wasted nothing, especially time.” He loved a party and and lived by a personal motto of all things in moderation. He said he made smoking an occasional cigar “an exercise in grace.”
In 2011, he moved to Mercy Ridge Retirement Community. He was a member of Towson United Methodist Church, the Rotary Club of Towson, the Marine Corps Aviation Association and a charter member of the National Museum of Naval Aviation.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. today at the Holloway Funeral Home in Salisbury.
Survivors include a daughter, Shelley Nelson Dyer of Nanticoke; a son, Patrick Edmund Nelson of Delmar; six grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; and a special friend, Ruby Rausa. His wife of 60 years died in 2006.