Dr. Glen Nelson Remembered

May 14, 2016

Dr. Glen Nelson died last night.

Glen Nelson was a major force in shaping and leading American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio. He served on the APM and MPR Boards from 2001 until 2016 – as Chair of the boards between 2006 and 2008 and then as a life trustee until his death. Following is a personal recollection of Dr. Nelson as our board chair and wonderful friend.

Dear Friends,

We lost Glen Nelson today after a year-long battle with declining health that he won, miraculously twice, only to finally succumb. Glen Nelson was a very successful business executive, serving as vice-chair of Medtronic during the years when its growth and product development were at its peak. Glen had a lot to do with that success. He was a leader who was extremely curious about technology and how it could combine with medicine for the betterment of the health of the people of the world. That was the thing with Glen. His curiosity. His willingness to take risks in the hope that something significant would develop. His willingness to listen carefully to what others had to offer. Those attributes made him a rare executive.

When Glen chaired the APM|MPR Boards, it was rare that a member of the Board missed a meeting. He set agendas that looked at the future and at how technology would impact media. He saw the need and the opportunity for APM|MPR to play a bigger national role. APM and MPR grew markedly under Glen’s guidance. He not only engaged the Board and drew out their best thinking, but he also engaged the management team, spending significant time with us discussing strategy, ideas, risks and the future. In the process, he was my partner with the Board in overseeing the fundraising and the design and construction of the new MPR building that opened in 2006 with its futuristic technology and contemporary production studios.

In Glen’s mind there were three major institutions in Minnesota that contributed to its quality of life: the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota, and Minnesota Public Radio. He spent many hours thinking about how these three could work more closely together to advance life in this State.

But Glen had another side that was less often seen, partly because he was innately shy. His commitment to his family, his sense of adventure and his sense of humor were all qualities that made him fun and interesting to be with. He would decide to take a group to Africa to help distribute hearing aids to hearing impaired children in rural villages; a few months later he might take a group to Patagonia to perfect fly fishing. He would surprise his wife, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, by taking her and friends to an exotic location to celebrate a birthday. He skied the steeps of Jackson Hole well beyond the age anyone with good sense would have. All the while he mentored new med-tech and healthcare start-up companies and their leaders and celebrated their accomplishments with zest – and with a few Ole and Lena jokes thrown into the mix.

Glen served on many for-profit and some non-profit boards, mostly associated in some way with advancing Minnesota or healthcare. I won’t forget the introductory dinner when a merger was being crafted between The St Paul Companies and The Travelers insurance company, at which he got up in front of the combined boards of directors after a series of pompous toasts and simply told an Ole and Lena joke – something the east coast group may still be puzzling over.

Glen didn’t have to do any of what he did. He didn’t need to give so much of himself and of his resources to the community. He didn’t need to create more new companies. He didn’t need to mentor me or the MPR|APM management nor lead our Board. He didn’t do it for glory. He did it because those were his values. If you asked him what his greatest accomplishment was, he might tell you jokingly and with self-deprecation that it was none of those things, it was making the Harvard football team! But he did it all – and because APM|MPR became one of his passions, all of our listeners around the world owe an enormous debt to Dr. Glen Nelson – who did what he chose to do because he thought it was important for others and because he had the ability and capability to do it.

Contemplating the kind of service Glen Nelson provided to Minnesota, to the medical field, and to individuals who benefited from his early days as a surgeon, as well as the loyalty he showed to his family and friends, clarifies what a loss his death means to us all.

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
(A. E. Housman)

He served us well. He brought us joy We loved him well. We were fortunate to have him.

Thank you, Glen.

Bill Kling
President Emeritus
American Public Media | Minnesota Public Radio