Yesterday was the 65th birthday of one of my closest friends and mentors, Robert “Bob” Nelson. Many in San Diego know Bob, as he serves on the the regional Port Commission, several other board and commissions and has been a leader in the business, political and non profit community for many years. I want to tell the story of the Bob I know, one that many in San Diego may have never experienced but should know exists.
The best way that I can describe Bob is as both brilliantly insane and insanely brilliant. I met him several times before we became friends but the first time we really connected was when I put together a press conference aboard the USS MIDWAY announcing the launch of the Truman Project San Diego chapter, of which I am the Co-Founder and chapter leader. We invited Bob out to the presser and the party afterward and he seemed pretty into the work we were doing.
Shortly after the press conference, Bob invited the Truman Project to his home to host a foreign affairs and national security salon, attended by local San Diego thought leaders and stakeholders. Truman’s CEO and President flew out for the event and we had an incredible discussion about the Iran Deal and Women in Combat, both of which Truman led nationally to help get through an obstructionist congress.
Since then, we’ve become regular sailing buddies and he has generously opened his home on several occasions for me to host events for whatever cause I’m hot on at the time. He has also entertained out of town guests on the good ship Uni on several occasions. Proudly showing off the Port and all of the wonderful things that happen there. This is Bob. He cares about issues, but he also opens his home. To causes, friends, or relatives who need a place to stay, and many times to myself and my son.
What many do not know about Captain Bob is that he is a high-school dropout. He’s also a former Republican. He entered politics in Orange County at a young age and then started his own company, Nelson Communications. He grew the business to be a major force in California politics and at one point worked with the NRA, drug, tobacco, and insurance companies.
Then everything changed. He reached the age of reason or mid life crisis, and realized that he no longer identified with the values and ideals of the Republican party, but that there was a presidential election going on. He started and led “Republicans for Clinton” in 1992. The day after Bill Clinton won the White House (with his help) he went down and registered as a Democrat. Today he is a close friend of the labor movement, often on the picket lines when they are fighting for working families, and many other progressive causes.
Up until recently, he was semi-retired but recently started MNM Advertising and Public Relations with two other folks here in the San Diego and it’s clear that the future is bright for their company.
The Bob I know is an incredible friend and mentor, always willing to listen to me gripe about whatever difficulty I’ve encountered, and never afraid to tell me when I’m being ridiculous. He once asked me if I ever had an opinion I didn’t share and then intimated that he hadn’t either. Bob is always available when I need to bounce an idea off of someone or when I need to vent. He’s introduced me to some pretty incredible people and has helped me grow both personally and professionally.
I am proud to call him chosen family. He is like a brother to me and an uncle to my child. In fact, he is often the first to stick up for Ryan if he thinks I’m being a bit strict unnecessarily. They have a wonderful relationship and Ryan even calls him “Captain Graybeard”. Bob affectionately refers to Ryan as “Admiral Clearbeard”. Ryan insists that he is the Admiral because he mostly sits around and doesn’t do anything while the rest of us sail the boat and bring him food.
Yesterday was Captain Bob’s birthday and I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute for my favorite ad man than a story about him for the world to see.