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Obituary (GA): Jeffrey Robert Nelson '72

Posted on 03/03/2020

Jeffrey Robert "Cannonball" Nelson  (May 11, 1951 - February 19, 2020)

Jeff passed away at home surrounded by his family. Although he worked hard to not depart, in typical Cannonball fashion, with his eyes to the sky and “Victory at Sea” playing in the background, he took his final leave on February 19, 2020.

Jeff was born in Brooklyn, NY to parents Robert (Bob) and Elsie Nelson. In his loving family, he was one of four children. He leaves behind his older brother Chris and two younger siblings, Lisa and Eric. In 1959, his family moved to Middlesex, NJ, where Jeff loved to play outdoors, ride his bike, and plan and execute adventures. The latter being a lifelong habit.

Two weeks after turning seventeen, Jeff began his Plebe summer at the U.S. Naval Academy. Although it wasn’t his favorite place at the time, he later reflected, the education and experience he’d received at Boat School was a significant, positive influence. He graduated on June 7, 1972.


He attended the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island and later received an MA from Salve Regina, also in Newport.

Jeff was a designated Naval Aviator specializing in Carrier based Tactical Aviation. He primarily flew the A-7 Corsair II and the

F/A-18 Hornet. He commanded Strike Fighter Squadron ONE THREE SIX (VFA-136). Jeff was well known throughout Naval Aviation as a “Fighter Pilot’s Pilot,” and as one of its leaders in strike operations. He retired as Captain on October 31, 1996.

Jeff, wanting to remain in the driver seat of a jet, began the next phase of his life as a pilot for Delta Airlines in October of ’97. He and his wife, Leslie moved to the Atlanta area, eventually making their home and life in Kennesaw, where they had their two children Katie and Robbie. In May of 2016, Jeff retired as a captain. It was a great life for Jeff and his family. In addition to safely transporting thousands of people, when time allowed, he enjoyed his “microvacations” which typically included a nice meal and a bike ride while on layover. He also took great pleasure in planning and executing family trips – a bit more complicated, but very much enriching and appreciated.

Jeff was enormously proud of his Norwegian heritage; a strong influence in his family. In one of his many life adventures, he initiated contact with his Bergen relatives, resulting in a lasting connection between his family on both sides of the Atlantic.

Jeff always said, “Do what you love,” and he did.

In addition to his siblings and their families, Jeff is survived by his wife Leslie, children Katie and Robbie, and his daughter Paige. He leaves a hole in the hearts of not only his family, but so many with whom he was connected.

Jeff was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in September of 2018. He fought hard, but it is a beast of a disease. His brother Eric Nelson is running in the Boston Marathon in his honor this April. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to sponsor Eric in his run, all proceeds going to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. He’s calling it the Cannonball Run.

PCAN link:

Two memorial services are planned, one in April in Kennesaw, and at his final resting place, Arlington National Cemetery.

Southern Cremations & Funerals
Phone: (770) 637-1532
1861 Dallas Highway, Marietta, GA