Maxine Nelson, 70, of Pine Bluff, died Thursday morning. She leaves behind a legacy of service above self exemplified by her years as a critical care nurse, as a member of the Watson Chapel School Board and as a passionate advocate for the less fortunate.
“We know there will never be another Maxine,” said Danny Hazelwood, superintendent of the Watson Chapel School District. “I’ve been praying for her since she became sick last year. She has served on the school board since 1989 and did an outstanding job advocating for kids whether black or white. She was a nurse for many years and she was always a professional in my mind. She always carried herself that way.”
Hazelwood served alongside Nelson with the common goal of bettering the lives of children.
Donnie Hartsfield is the current president of the Watson Chapel School Board.
“Ms. Nelson was very dedicated to the school board and was a champion of the underprivileged,” Hartsfield said. “She fought for the underdog. She wanted to help and also knew that people had to learn to help themselves at some point. The main thing that pulled at her heart strings was when we had to suspend students. We always tried to give them an in-school suspension if we could. She knew that education is the key to being successful, so she hated to have to send students home on suspension.”
Robin Barker is the junior board member and appreciated having Nelson as a role model.
“I truly respected her and because I am the newest board member I knew immediately that I wanted to observe her and learn as much as I could from her,” Barker said. “Especially because as a woman it was helpful to have a fellow female on the board. She was always very fair and voted in an unbiased way. Her focus was always on the students. If we began to speak off subject she would always get us back on track. Everyone respected her and she respected others. She was very professional and had lots of confidence.”
Sandra C. Boone served on the school board with Nelson since 2002.
“It saddens my heart to lose a friend like Maxine,” Boone said. “She was our senior board member and had been on the board for 23 years. She always did her best to see that our laws were followed. We became friends after my election to the board in 2002. Once we attended a conference in Orlando, Fla., and I was having trouble walking. I told her to go on without me because I felt like I was holding her back. She emphatically told me that she was staying with me because we came together and would leave together.”
“My heart goes out to her children,” Boone said. “Her children might find comfort in knowing that she knew the Lord. There were times during my bout with cancer and congestive heart failure that Maxine was very sick and could hardly talk but still frequently called to check on me. I know that we will manage without her, but it is going to be a difficult task.”
“One of her favorite quotes to her fellow board members was, if it’s not for the children and not going to benefit the children we’re not going to do it,” Boone said.
Emerald Reynolds is Nelson’s granddaughter.
“She was a very compassionate person and forgiving,” Reynolds said. “She was basically the glue that held the family together. She always fought for what was right for low- and moderate-income people. She had a heart of gold; she was a God-fearing woman. She was my role-model; she was my everything. She treated everybody the same, whether they were a complete stranger or her own child. One of her last wishes before she passed was that she wanted everybody in the family to get along.”
“Even at her weakest point with her sickness she still put others first and her health second,” Reynolds said.
Cynthia Nelson Jones is Nelson’s daughter.
“She cared about the kids,” Jones said. “That is one reason she ran for the school board. I followed in her footsteps as a nurse. I loved my momma. She offered a shoulder to cry on and would tell me that everything is going to be okay. We talked on the phone every day. She wanted change to come. She was active in the community. The night before she passed I could tell that she was tired but she was still getting up. She was a great mentor to the nurses that followed behind her.”
“She always wanted us children to carry on her legacy of volunteering and helping people,” Jones said.
Raymond Nelson is one of Nelson’s sons and followed in his mother’s footsteps as a nurse just as his sister did.
“She was my role model,” Raymond Nelson said. “She is why I became a nurse. She was in the cardiac critical care wing of Jefferson Regional Medical Center for 34 years, from 1972 until 2006. I’ve been caring for her since she got sick. I was there from the beginning and I was there with her until the end. She was a very inspirational person.”
Amos Nelson is another of Nelson’s sons.
“She was my inspiration, my everything,” Amos Nelson said. “There wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t speak, especially when she got sick. I really enjoyed being around her and cooking for her. She encouraged me a lot. She also loved her grandchildren. She would check in on her elderly neighbor Mr. Lamb to make sure he had something to eat on the weekends. Even when she got sick she gave me a smile.”
“The last time I talked to her was Wednesday night,” Amos Nelson said. “We said a prayer together; she said I love you and gave me a kiss.”
Michael Nelson is retired from the military and is another of Nelson’s children.
“She was a strong and determined woman who loved and wanted the best for her kids,” Michael Nelson said. “She was a community-minded person and always told me that she was a voice for the people who did not have a voice. That was what drove her; to do what’s best for the community and for the people who don’t have a voice.”
Neil Sealy is the executive director of Arkansas Community Organizations, a group to which Nelson devoted many years.
“I have worked with Maxine since 1985,” Sealy said. “She has always been very professional and always a very good leader within ACORN and our new organization. She was a member of the National Board of ACORN and served greater than 10 years on it. She worked very hard on the issue campaigns that we did. When ACORN endorsed candidates she worked really hard on our get out the vote efforts.”
Johnnie Pugh was a sister-in-arms with Nelson in social justice activism.
“Maxine was a beautiful person,” Pugh said. “We worked together on any number of things in the community. I first met Maxine in the 1980s. When Jesse Jackson ran for president we took part in a bus trip from St. Louis down through Arkansas and Louisiana on to Atlanta to support his candidacy.”
Former Pine Bluff City Councilwoman Irene Holcomb was one of Nelson’s friends and fellow community activist.
“Maxine was a true community activist,” Holcomb said. “She was a great school board member, mother, grandmother and a true friend of humanity. I started working with her in ACORN in 1986. We worked on many local, state and national issues together. When she was running for school board I got out and stumped for her and when I ran for city council she got out and stumped for me. We marched in sun, rain, sleet, and snow for causes related to low- and moderate-income people. To sum Maxine up, she was a true humanitarian.”
Wanda Neal was a close friend.
“When I got the call that she had passed I was taken out for the rest of the day,” Neal said. “Maxine was an anchor for the City of Pine Bluff. She was a great tribute for this city. When she went to do something she did it. She had no hidden agendas. I have been in Pine Bluff for 23 years and Maxine was the third person that I met. At City Council meetings Maxine was in the front row. Even if she wasn’t there to speak, she was there. She was a pillar of this community. I thank God for her life in Pine Bluff.”
Funeral arrangements are being made by Brown Funeral Home.