Memorial Day: Principal who died after donating marrow to teen remembered today
WESTFIELD — The school principal — and U.S. Army Reserve veteran — who died after donating bone marrow to a teenage boy is being honored today in the community he served.
Dr. Derrick Nelson has been named Honorary Grand Marshal in memory of his service, Westfield officials announced earlier this month.
Nelson, 44, died earlier this year from complications after a donation on behalf of a 14-year-old boy living in France, whom he'd never met.
"His selfless sacrifice was indicative of an entire life's work for the greater good of others," Michael Giorgio wrote in a news update on Seton Hall University's site last week. Nelson earned his doctorate in education from the school in 2013.
Giorgio continued: "So influential were his efforts that the enormous outpouring of grief through vigils and tributes, including one from NJ Governor Phil Murphy, was televised throughout the tri-state area. Derrick Nelson personified the true meaning of servant leadership, which is at the heart of Seton Hall University's mission."
Nelson had volunteered as a drill instructor for reserve units mobilizing to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Seton Hall piece. He was deployed in 2013, transitioning from master sergeant to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear warrant officer. He spent his education career in New Jersey, starting as a teacher at Washington Elementary School in his hometown of Plainfield.
According to his obituary, while serving as an assistant principal in Orange, he started the "Men on a Mission Organization," to bring students' fathers together with staff and create mentorship program for fifth- through seventh-grade boys.
In Westfield, he established the Plainfield/Westfield exchange "in which students and teachers from both communities collaborated on the book Of Mice and Men with a central focus on the American Dream," the obituary states.
He'd planned to get married to his fiance, Sheronda, in June of this year, according to the obituary.
TAP Into Westfield reports the Westfield school district will nominate him for a Soldiers' Medal Award through the Department of Defense.
"Dr. Nelson touched us all with his kindness, compassion, integrity and endlessly positive attitude," Westfield Superintendent Margaret Dolan wrote in a statement published by TAP after his death. "We hold him and his family in our hearts as we grieve this loss together."
Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle wrote on her Facebook page her family was "devastated" by the news of Nelson's death and called his death a "tremendous loss."
Nelson had donated bone marrow in January after it was discovered via blood he donated in 1996 he was a perfect match for a 14-year-old boy in France, according to a story in the Westfield High School student newspaper Hi's Eye.
Nelson's father 81-year-old father, Willie Nelson, told NJ.com that after the procedure his son couldn't speak. Willie Nelson said his son recognized family members who kept a vigil at his bedside at a Bergen County hospital but he could not move
State Senator Tom Kean in a message on his Twitter account called Derrick Nelson a "truly selfless leader."
With previous reporting by Dan Alexander.
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