Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Family, friends mourn popular Castro resident

Family and friends are mourning the death of a popular gay Castro area resident who put himself through law school by working in many of the neighborhood’s bars and restaurants.

Richard Nelson, 36, was found dead Tuesday morning, February 21, outside his home near 18th and Sanchez streets. The cause of death isn’t known, but those who knew Nelson said that he’d had health issues, and they don’t suspect foul play.

[Updated: A memorial and celebration will be held beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday, February 25, at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street, San Francisco. A reception will follow.]

There should be plenty of things to say about Nelson, whom loved ones describe as intelligent, compassionate, and sharp-witted

Richard Nelson, left, with friends Armond Dorsey and Sammy Rodriguez in 2004

Armond Dorsey, who met Nelson at UC-Santa Cruz almost 20 years ago, said he was “numb” over the death.

“Richard was more than my friend,” Dorsey said. “Richard was family to me.”

Dorsey said that he was with Nelson on Monday night, February 20. They had dinner at Harvey’s, where they ran into several other friends that they then spent some time with.

“He was upbeat,” Dorsey said of Nelson. “He was making plans for the future.” He said they’d just returned from Palm Springs earlier in the month – it was Nelson’s  first time there – and Nelson was talking about when they were going to do it again.

Dorsey went home at about 9 p.m., while Nelson planned to go to the Mix, which he visited often.

Dorsey, who’s 37 and lives in Oakland, said other people should be inspired by Nelson.

“He fought really, really hard to just say, ‘No, I’m going to make something of myself,” he said.

Kristy White, Nelson’s niece, also recalled Nelson’s determination.

She described the period when he was attending college in the early 1990s and came out to  his family. At the time, White was a frequent churchgoer.

“I remember very clearly during the time he came out, he wrote me a four-page letter,” White said. “It was a huge concern to him that it didn’t change our relationship. Ultimately, I really didn’t care. In my mind, I loved him anyway. It didn’t matter whatsoever. But for him … I could tell it was something that he poured a lot of himself into.”

Referring to herself and other family members, she said, “It’s kind of like we knew before he told us, so we really weren’t really that surprised.”

She also said Nelson’s family was happy that he’d found his place outside the Central Valley, where “he felt very restricted.”

At 37, White’s a year older than Nelson was.

“We were raised like brother and sister,” White said. “He was like my little brother.”

White lives in the Modesto area and said she saw Nelson several times a year. She said he didn’t expect to have children of his own and doted on her kids.

Even when there weren’t biological ties, it appears that Nelson worked to create family.

Steve Porter, 37, one of Nelson’s housemates, said that Nelson “was always interested in whatever he could do to make life easier for people that he cared about.” He said his friend “always liked to make big dinners for people that didn’t really have family on special occasions,” such as holidays.

Porter, a manager at the restaurant Harvey’s, said that Nelson had recently started running Paul Langley Company, which Porter said owns Harvey’s, Powerhouse, and several other bars and restaurants.

Porter said that Nelson’s background in landlord and tenant rights law made him a “natural fit” for the job. He said that his friend also had experience in other legal areas and once helped him with a family law case.

Dorsey said that he, Nelson, and Sammy Rodriguez, another friend from college, were like the Three Musketeers. Rodriguez quipped that it was an “unholy trinity.”

Rodriguez, who’s 36 and lives in New York City, said that he and Nelson ran the Lavender Lounge, a space for queer youth where they’d watch the TV comedy Absolutely Fabulous and have movie nights. He recalled Nelson’s wit and said it was reminiscent of Sophia Petrillo, the sharp-tongued character played by Estelle Getty on the Golden Girls sitcom.

Rodriguez said that Nelson left UC-Santa Cruz early in the mid-1990s.

Nelson moved to San Francisco and started working jobs at bars including Badlands and Detour, and restaurants like the Patio Café and Nirvana. Eventually, he put himself through UC Hastings School of Law.

Rodriguez said that Nelson was “incredibly social” and “incredibly intelligent,” which apparently were characteristics that were sometimes hard to balance.

“I think he knew oftentimes that he was smarter than a lot of people in the room, and that kind of frustrated him,” he said. “In some ways, he wanted to just relax and to just chill out with all of us.”

Cause of death unknown

Nelson’s loved ones don’t know how he died. A San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office staffer wouldn’t comment on the possible cause.

Porter said that when he was seeing his partner off to work Tuesday at about 7 a.m., police were outside. There was yellow caution tape around the scene and Nelson’s body was covered.

“There’s a lot of questions we’re all asking ourselves right now,” White, Nelson’s niece, said.

Asked about any medical conditions Nelson had, White said there was “nothing that would warrant an early passing, but we will not be able to know the full results of the autopsy for a couple months.”

She said that Nelson had allergies, and had been on a couple different medications, but she didn’t want to elaborate.

Rodriguez said that Nelson had a thyroid problem and had struggled with his weight, and was “not in the best health.” He said that he’d been trying to watch his diet and alcohol intake.

“He had some demons, as we all do, but his intention was always to make piece with them,” he said.

Like others, Porter said that Nelson had been optimistic recently.

He said, “It seemed like with the new year forming, he really had a change in attitude and a change in his habits, and he was feeling pretty good about life, and that’s what makes this all the more tragic.”

Besides his numerous friends, Nelson is survived by two brothers, two sisters, and nieces and nephews.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, February 22, 2012 @ 9:47 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

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