Burton "Burt" Nelson | 1927-2010

Burt Nelson, owner of appliance store, dies at 83

NEW SUBURB BEAUTIFUL — Some people are fortunate enough to love their work. Burt Nelson was even more fortunate: He just loved work. Any work.

He worked from the time he was a little kid in Pooler, Ga., through the years he took a struggling appliance store and turned it into a huge success, and up until he finally retired in his late 70s. It hardly mattered what the job was; Mr. Nelson loved it and excelled at it.

He died after a few months of declining health on Oct. 11, 2010. He was 83.

The people who knew him best can't help talking about Mr. Nelson's lifelong love affair with hard work. He was 63 when his retail business, Disston Distributors in St. Petersburg, closed because of competition from huge chain stores. He never gave retirement a thought.

"I don't know what it is like to not have a job," he told his son Win. "There's a place for me somewhere, and I'll find it in time."

He took a job as a furniture salesman at a department store, where he worked until about six years ago.

Those who knew him also remember his love of family and his disarming, sometimes impish sense of humor. Pooler, the small town where he grew up, was known for its dairy farms. When young Mr. Nelson met an out-of-towner, he'd invite the stranger to "come to Pooler and smell our dairy air." He and his brother used to grease the railroad tracks and laugh at the incensed engineer as the train slid right past the depot.

It was largely that sense of humor that first endeared him to his wife, Bettie, whom he met on a blind date.

In between his two Navy stints, Mr. Nelson had come to Tampa to visit his brother. A mutual friend set up the blind date.

"He was a year younger than I was," Bettie Nelson said. "I felt like I was robbing the cradle. But I got over that soon enough. He was tall and good looking, and he was funny. I liked him right away."

They settled first near Gandy Boulevard. It was a modest house, but Mr. Nelson added rooms and a patio and turned it into one of the finest homes on the block. It was one of the first private homes in Tampa to have air conditioning, his family said.

Mr. Nelson worked as a traveling salesman for several companies, driving from town to town selling appliances. Weary of the road, he came home for good in 1965 and bought the appliance store. It was one storefront when he bought it, but over the next 20 years he took over adjoining spaces and quadrupled the size.

In the late 1960s, his family moved to the area near Palma Ceia Country Club. The Nelsons joined the club, but Mr. Nelson seldom went there. He had a lot of friends, but he had a shy side. He was more comfortable spending his free time working around the house.

When the store finally closed, Mr. Nelson sold furniture at a Montgomery Ward, which later became Sears. He relished every minute of the job, outworking and outperforming colleagues half his age, his family said.

"How many 60-somethings do you know that are willing to work Midnight Madness sales or show up at 5 a.m. to work Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving and do the same thing every day during the last week before Christmas?" his son said. "He never lost his touch. He loved to work, he loved selling stuff and he loved the competition."

Besides his wife and his son, Mr. Nelson is survived by his daughter Priscilla, his granddaughter and his great grandson.

Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Burt Nelson, owner of appliance store, dies at 83 10/21/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 21, 2010 5:31am]

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