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The Longest Wait by Robert Kurson, Part 8, From Learning to Brush his Teeth to Dr. Nelson

Or so he thought.  Randy mailed 93 resumes to colleges across the country.  None responded.

Disheartened, he and his wife traveled to a political science fair in Chicago and good fortune followed.  Randy ran into a man he had known at Michigan.  The man introduced him to the head of the political science department at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale; an offer was made.

SIU was a wonderful fit and before long, students were clamoring to register for Dr. Nelson’s government and constitutional law courses.  He lectured theatrically, pacing the classroom, pivoting to make his points, using his desk as a prop.  “We held him in awe,” recalls former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris, a 1959 SIU graduate.  “His knowledge of government was astonishing and Dr. Nelson was a mesmerizing lecturer.  We could not wait to get to class.  His intellect was breathtaking.  After a day, no one remembered he was blind.  He’d look you right in the eye   If his guide dog had not been sitting there, people would never have known.”

Randy teaching at SIU 1955. He eventually headed the Poli-Sci Dept.

For nearly 30 years, Randy taught at SIU and wrote books on government.  In addition to his love for academia, he strategized with JFK and met met with Democratic leaders like Adlai Stevenson and Walter Mondale.  In 1974, he spearheaded the congressional campaign of his close friend Paul Simon.  “You could discuss anything with him,” Simon recalls.  “He was Jeffersonian in his interests.  At the same time, he was such a genuinely good guy.  I’ll never forget sitting with Randy and our wives in 1974, stuffing envelopes to send to precinct committeemen.  He was willing to do the nuts and bolts stuff, whatever it took to help me.”

Randy raised two sons with his wife and served on the Carbondale City Council.  The Universities of Colorado and North Carolina offered him tenured professorships after he took sabbaticals there.  Randy would never leave SIU – the school had shown faith in him and he would never turn his back on a gesture like that.  Even after he retired from active teaching in 1984, he continued to serve as the school’s ombudsman.

Randy’s brother, Jim and his kids, visit Randy and family in Carbondale 1961

Sadly, in 1990, his wife died of cancer.  Randy’s days became increasingly lonely and he passed the time by filling his bird feeder, fixing himself dinner (Sundays were pizza night) and rooting for Michigan.  More and more, he began thinking about Jacquelyn.  Soon, he began to think about finding her.  He recruited his brother, Jim, for the search but neither knew Jacquelyn’s married name or even where to begin.  On a hunch in 1995, Jim phoned a family friend who had attended the University of Alabama.  He asked how a person might go about finding on Alabama alum.  The friend dusted off an old class directory that listed students by maiden name and opened to the J’s.  There she was – Jacquelyn Yvonne Jackson.  It gave her married name and an address in Montgomery.  Jim didn’t wait to tell Randy.  He just called Jacquelyn and told her to call his brother.

To be continued.