David Dwain Nelson

Passed away on March 29, 2019

David Nelson passed away peacefully on March 29. David lived a life of adventure, a life filled with accomplishments. He could often be found climbing up a sheer rockface, hanging from a giant icicle, scuba diving among sunken ships, and staring down dinner-plate-sized jungle spiders. But just as often, he could be found entertaining his friends and family with an exciting story or laughing with them at a good joke. David was born on December 6, 1949 in Salt Lake City. He was ambitious and adventurous, even in his childhood, and he loved the outdoors. He earned his Eagle Scout award at age 13. Living in Southern California during high school, he’d wake up early before school and go surfing with his brother Gary. He also played football, and upon breaking his leg during a game, turned the misfortune around—he painted his cast with school colors, making it the theme for his candidacy for student body office. He won. Classmates were drawn to David and he had many friends. Together with some of them, he formed and became president of the Chancellor’s Club, a custom fraternity for service and social activities that continued into his college years. David was intelligent and educated, earning a BS and MS from the University of Utah, a PhD and an honorary doctorate from the University of Southern Philippines and an honorary doctorate from the India Institute of Technology. He served for ten years as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, College of Medicine at the University of Utah, teaching hazardous waste and environmental toxicology to medical professionals. He founded a company, EnviroSearch International, Inc., and took it to the Inc. 500 in 1992 as one of the fastest growing companies in the United States. He received several special appointments including an appointment from former president George Bush to serve on an international committee involved with the environmental aspects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). David was a leading expert in the field of global environmental and occupational health and safety legislation and regulations, environmental auditing and corporate social responsibility. David was extensively published in journals and textbooks and was interviewed by numerous publications including Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. He authored the de facto textbook in his field--International Environmental Auditing. He lived and worked in China, the Philippines, India, and many other locations. Through his work and travels, David formed a network of friends and colleagues in numerous countries and, above all, developed a deep appreciation for other cultures as he worked to improve the environmental and working conditions for people throughout the world. He enjoyed skiing, scuba diving, ice climbing, rock climbing, sailing, and cycling. He earned a black belt in karate and even worked as a karate instructor. He climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, summited Mt. Rainier in Washington State, and even attempted Ama Dablam in the Himalaya range of eastern Nepal. He loved the Wind Rivers in Wyoming, and the red rock of Southern Utah. He was a gifted writer, public speaker, and storyteller. Almost as good as his adventures themselves, were the stories he told about those adventures, often leaving the listeners howling in laughter or on the edge of their seats. But above all, he was a friend to many. His death came too soon, but ever the explorer, David has passed on to the next great adventure. He is survived by his mother, Connie Nelson; brother Gary (Louise) Nelson; sisters Cathy (Brad) Nordgren and Janet (Jim) Howell; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his father, Richard Nelson, his sister, Diana Nelson, and his brother Craig Nelson. A Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, April 13th at 11:00 a.m. at the Fortuna LDS chapel: 4407 S Fortuna Way, Salt Lake City, Utah. Prior to the Celebration, a reception will be held beginning at 10:15 a.m.


  • Connie Nelson, Mother
  • Gary (Louise) Nelson, Brother
  • Cathy (Brad) Nordgren, Sister
  • Janet (Jim) Howell, Sister
  • David is also survived by many other family members and friends who will cherish his memory.


  • Celebratioin of David's Life

    Saturday, April 13, 2019


David Dwain Nelson

have a memory or condolence to add?

Leslie Payne

December 8, 2020

It has been around seven years since I spoke with David. It was just today 1.5 years after his passing that I found out. I am saddened by this news. I met him later on in life, but he was young at heart. I have many happy memories of cycling trips we did together in Utah . We parted on a sour note, which I now regret. I will think of him often as I ride the bike . Les.

William J. Hanson

February 4, 2020

Sharon and I both wish to extend our most deepest and heartfelt sympathies to the family on the incredible loss of Dave. We are so deeply saddened to hear this news as he was such a genuine and caring friend both in school here in Southern California, —and years later, to our family. Please know that he always held such a special place in our hearts. We will hold him, and the family, in our prayers. God bless.

Warmest regards,
Bill and Sharon Hanson
Newport Beach, California

Dave Gibson

August 1, 2019

David was a man of extreme curiosity and courage who left an indelible mark on those who were fortunate enough to have spent time with him. Never shy and indeed, a master story teller, he brought mirth, gravity, and humor to every situation. He was a selfless Sherpa to many and the World is a better place for all of those people he nurtured toward careers in environmental activism. He burned brightly all the time and provided light in often dark circumstances. He was a good friend and I loved him like a brother. He will be most certainly missed.

"Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?” Hunter S Thompson

Stephan Foust

June 13, 2019

In 1980, I walked into Salt Lake City, 2600 miles into a solo hike from the Atlantic shore of Nags Head, NC to St. Reyes National Seashore in California. I met David at Kirkham's when he was working a weekend job there and I was scheduled to do a short series of appearances. We quickly became friends and then roommates when David offered me lodging at his house for as long as it took for me to re-build my sagging bank account. My stay lasted six weeks and during that time David and his circus of warm, witty, talented, and smart friends took me on many adventures. I was at a low point in my travels when I arrived and scared to death that I was going to fade away and turn to dust crossing the Salt Flats, but David and his friends forced me out of my comfort zone and into a love for the desert that I have to this day. And to insure that I made it safely to Wendover, David and his pals--now my friends, too--even went out and buried food and water caches for me every 20 miles along I-80. As you can see in the attached photo, David joined me for part of that walk. Long story short, I eventually made my goal of reaching the west coast and David and I remained friends forever, even if we rarely saw each or talked. The last time I was with him was on one of those Wind River Canyon trips others have written about on this thread. To this day, I believe I owe my life to this unique and brilliant individual and it saddens me deeply to learn, at this late date, that he is gone. But, my Lord, what a life! He did more and accomplished more in his years on Earth than most of us could in several lifetimes. I am grateful for having gotten to know him and to be inspired by his grace, intelligence, and wit. I do not know for certain where you are now, David, but wherever it is, I am certain that you are testing it's limits and your own, too, just as it should be.

Ron Neilson

April 14, 2019

My wife, Avery, and I first met David when we moved to Salt Lake City in 1975. We spent about five years there while I was going to school at the University. David and I had a common interest in photography, which also brought us into the wings of Bob Rock and Frank burdis. For the next five or six years we explored the Rockies in the West with abandon. We hiked the mountains of the Wasatch, the deserts of Southern Utah and Nevada. David and I got into climbing together, serious climbing. The two of us were constant climbing partners seen up on the gate buttress and up on the coal pit buttress doing pendulums on vertical Rock and other rather dangerous things. We camped and hiked the Wind River mountains. Then we always had slideshows together, with all of us showing our best slides, and worst, for all to laugh over and enjoy. David was as a brother to me. Long before climbing gyms, we trained together on the rock walls of Safeway. David asked if I would be his friend until the end, and I said 'of course.' I simply did not expect it to be this soon. Avery and I left Salt Lake to pursue a postdoc in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1981 and did not return to Salt Lake until 1984, but then we had a new child with us. Thus, David and I did not have as much time to spend together which was disappointing for both of us. And then in 1987 we moved to Corvallis and our trajectories drifted apart. So this is a particularly sad ending for me of our relationship. However, my memories of our time together are among the best I will always carry.

Frank Burdis

April 12, 2019

I was saddened to learn of David's passing. He was a special friend in my younger more adventurous years before marriage and children. Many of my most memorable adventures included David. In fact I think he was the architect of many of them, from winter camping in Yellowstone to boiling hot desert treks. Those are some of the more memorable times in my 20's and 30's.
David always had an interesting story to tell and he was also one of the better listeners I have met. He was genuinely interested in your story and opinion and what you had to say. David had an impact on my life for the positive.
My condolences go out to his family.

Cathy Nelson Nordgren

April 12, 2019

Dear Dave,

My oldest brother. I am so deeply saddened by your passing. Why did you have to do that? I still have so much more to learn from you.

You are the coolest person I know. You lived a life of risk, weren't afraid of being real, did the craziest things, sometimes risking your life.

I was always in awe of the adventures you took, and the stories you'd tell. You could tell a story like no other. I look forward to more when we meet again.

You are my lovely brother, so handsome, fun, and with a big kind heart. I'm going to miss you, my dear brother. What am I going to do without you?

Love you always and forever,


Adam Strachan

April 11, 2019

I will miss David dearly. He was my Godfather, a mentor, and he enriched my life in ways I will never forget. Our times were spent surfing together, climbing together, riding together, talking together -- and always laughing together. He enhanced my love of the outdoors and my respect for the environment, which is something I deeply cherish and will pass on to my children. He was a wonderful person in more ways than words can describe. I will miss him dearly.

Rachel Kral

April 10, 2019

I was caught off guard to hear of David’s passing and wish to send my condolences to his special family. It as been many years since we were in contact but the memories are very vivid. I wish that I could travel to the celebration to offer support.
Instead I offer this: David gifted me with several life long interests. We met shortly after I moved to SLC for college. I had never been camping let alone backpacking but we soon began those adventure to the beautiful red rock country and mountains. Those experiences opened a totally new love of the outdoors for me that has persisted to this day. On top of that we began a bird watching hobby that I still carry with me today. I remember crawling through some marshy area in Utah with friends to catch a glimpse of a lone Whooping Crane that David had heard about. One of our party developed heat stroke but still the experience was so special.
Along with friends we learned to winter camp in Yellowstone! I only dared try that once with David but I still tell the story. Forty below zero is not in my comfort zone but David researched all aspects of this and we were safe.
Connie, you have experienced more than mothers should ever have to deal with. I will ever treasure how kind you were to me and I wish I could be of some comfort to you now. You are a very special person.
So rest in peace my friend.
Rachel Dawson Kral

Bill Prince

April 7, 2019

Dave was my colleague, teacher and friend for more than 30 years. Our introduction came through a serendipitous event calling for Dave’s expertise as an environmental consultant. That introduction led to years of shared professional engagements and personal interaction. Dave and I jointly represented clients with environmental challenges, presented at professional conferences around the U.S. and Mexico, taught graduate students at the university and mountaineered in the Rockies. The trajectory of our lives were not always synchronic. His extended assignments in Asia and the travel demands of his work left large gaps in our relationship. But when our orbits crossed we easily picked up where we left off, usually with a lunch. Our random lunch meetings mimicked that odd film called “My Dinner with Andre,” which featured two long-time friends during a four-hour long dinner conversation in which they compared their different lives. One life, Andre’s, was extraordinary, exciting and full of engaging stories. The other’s life was steady but traditional. Dave was Andre to me. When we met for lunch, I could finish my meal and never say a word while Dave told stories of near-death climbing or biking accidents, trips to foreign sites and meetings advising business leaders on international environmental standards. I was never bored and Dave never finished his lunch. Dave’s mind was always moving at light speed. He was interested in everything. He read insatiably. He remembered the names of everyone he ever met and he stayed in touch with many of them. He was prescient, seeing future environmental business developments. He loved to explain how things work, especially climbing and camping equipment. He decorated life with micro-detail information. I learned not to ask a question if I was in a hurry. We never had enough time to answer all of the questions. I am grateful to have known Dave. I will miss him.