WOODY BASSETT: Nesson gave of himself to the benefit of others

We can learn a lot from the well-lived life of Fayetteville's Ralph Nesson. He set an admirable example for us.

Northwest Arkansas lost a kind and gentle soul when Nesson passed away recently. A community treasure, he will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved him and by countless others whose lives he touched in a positive way.

Nesson was the real deal, as genuine as they come. He nourished people with his generosity and constant acts of kindness and compassion.

At a time when there's too much division, we need more people like Nesson. He understood the value of unity and cooperation, recognizing we get a lot more done when we do something together.

Using the leadership skills he acquired through the years, Nesson knew how to inspire and motivate people to join with him in a common cause. He had a knack for appealing to the best in people and it paid dividends. It mattered not to Nesson what a person's station in life was, or what politics or religion that person practiced. The only thing that mattered to him was bringing people together to forge a vigorous and unified effort to provide others with opportunities they might not otherwise ever have.

Given his engaging manner as well as the trust and respect he had earned, it was almost impossible to say no to Nesson when he calmly asked you in that soft-spoken voice of his to pitch in to help his nonprofit organization do some good for the community.

Others used these words to describe Nesson following his death: "a beautiful person," "a smile that said it all" "a warrior for people," "steady," "funny," "loving" and "compassionate."

When he saw an unmet community need, he tried to do something about it. With his big heart and energetic drive, he never let real or imagined barriers get in his way. He worked tirelessly and effectively for the causes he believed in, making a meaningful difference in the lives of many.

Nesson spent years finding ways to help children and families in need. His belief in the value and accessibility of education opportunities for all was reflected in his work. Notably, he was the founder and driving force behind the creation of the Washington County Single Parent Scholarship Fund. Then he did even more by building it into a statewide program. In doing so, he collaborated with Hillary Clinton and others to get it done.

Here's what Clinton wrote in the wake of Nesson's death: "I was privileged to work with him in creating the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund during my time as First Lady of Arkansas, which has allowed thousands of single mothers and fathers to pursue post-secondary education degrees in the years since. But Ralph didn't stop there ... he kept working with Bright Futures USA and founded Northwest Arkansas Books for Kids. I will always be grateful for his visionary leadership and unyielding commitment to the communities and the state he loved, which will no doubt serve as his enduring legacy."

Shortly before he passed, the 72-year-old Nesson had taken an arduous 100-mile trek on foot throughout Northwest Arkansas to bring awareness to the importance of early reading and to raise money for Books for Kids to be used to create family literacy programs in our public schools. It was a testament to Nesson's perseverance and his willingness to make a personal sacrifice for the benefit of the greater good.

We are indeed fortunate that Nesson landed in Fayetteville all those years ago. He grew where he was planted, blossoming into a difference-maker for his community and a determined and unstoppable force when it came to finding ways to enhance the lives of others.

Nesson was guided by his beliefs and knew what was important. His successful life's work represented all that's right about the missions of nonprofit organizations and epitomized the dedication of those who show up everyday to carry out and fulfill those missions.

Many counted on Nesson for help. Maybe that's why he worked so hard and so smart to make each day count and why he mattered to so many. In a myriad of ways, he gave all he could, as often as he could, to as many as he could.

Nesson made us better and left his mark on Northwest Arkansas. It's a tribute to him that he did it his way and did it the right way. Though called home too soon, his generous and caring spirit will endure.

May those who knew Ralph Nesson find comfort in the warm embrace of his memory. May all of us strive to be a little more like him.

Commentary on 01/16/2020

Upcoming Events