Nelson, a native of Roxbury, served five terms on the Board of Trustees and was its chairman from 1984-87. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University and gave the Commencement address in 1979.
Boston College in 1995 established the Honorable David S. Nelson Professional Chair, to be held by an African-American professor who reflects the "educational aspirations and human qualities" which animated Nelson's career as a jurist and civic leader.
Nelson began his law career with the Boston firm of Crane Inker and Oteri. After an unsuccessful run for Congress in 1970, he moved to the state attorney general's office to direct its consumer-protection division, then was named by Gov. Francis Sargent to the Massachusetts Superior Court.
In 1979, he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the United States District Court in Boston. He presided at the Gennaro Angiulo trial, considered a major test of the Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal anti-organized-crime law. Nelson retired from the federal bench in 1995 due to illness.
As a Catholic layman, he served on the Boston Archdiocesan Urban Affairs Committee, was active in the Catholic Alumni Association and was a member of the Knights of Malta. His board affiliations included Boston City Hospital, the National Health Insurance Committee and the Boys Club of Boston. He also taught at Harvard University and Boston University.
A funeral Mass was celebrated yesterday at St. Cecilia's Church in the Back Bay. Burial was in Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain.
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