Howard Nielson

Howard Nielson

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Howard C. Nielson died of natural causes on Wednesday morning, May 20. He was living in South Carolina with his daughter Mary Lee Jackson, who was holding his hand when he passed away peacefully, to be reunited with his childhood sweetheart and wife, Julia (Julie) Adams Nielson, who passed away 17 years earlier. Howard was also preceded in death by his second wife, Donna Brown Nielson, who died in 2015. A teacher, public servant, consultant, numbers whiz, friend and neighbor, Howard was known and loved by more than any of us could ever count.

Howard met Julie, his future wife when they were both in elementary school in Richfield, Utah. They spent a great deal of time together until her family moved. Howard and Julie met again briefly in Fresno, California just before he shipped out to the Pacific theater. Building on their storybook friendship, the two were married a little less than three years after the war ended. Together, Howard and Julie raised four daughters and three sons. Ultimately, they would have 39 grandchildren. Their posterity now numbers more than 120.

To his friends and family in Richfield, to his colleagues in Provo, and to his political collaborators in our Utah and U.S. Capitols, Howard was known as a gentleman, as a friend and mentor, as a statesman, and as one of the good guys. As a young man, Howard was a hard-working Richfield, Utah farm boy, a standout high school debater, and the walk-on winner of the 64-dollar question on “Take It or Leave It.” He is a veteran of World-War II and the holder of four university degrees. Howard founded the BYU Statistics Department and was a perennial favorite of students there for 25 years. During this time, he spent a year in Amman as economic advisor to the Kingdom of Jordan, and for two years he was Utah’s Associate Commissioner of Higher Education. Howard’s 20-year tenure as a lawmaker included service as Utah Speaker of the House and four terms In the U.S. Congress. To cap it off, Howard won election and served a four-year Utah Senate term.

It was eight years into his service in Washington, as Howard was moving up the ranks in his party and the Energy and Commerce Committee, that he announced his retirement. He and Julie went on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Due to the war, Howard had not been a missionary as a young man, but he had promised Julie they’d go together one day. They ended up serving two missions.

Howard always read the newspaper, perhaps as much for the crossword puzzle as for the knowledge of national and world events. Knowing what was happening in the world was one-way Howard perfected the art of being the best prepared for any meeting he entered. Adding to this preparation, he was the original fact-checker. As such, in his first congressional primary election, he positioned colleagues around the state to feed him data, and he kept his own tally of election returns. Howard’s count was so much more complete than what the media had, they started reporting his numbers. Howard also loved to see firsthand the places he read about. From road trips across the country to congressional fact-finding missions, from political national committee meetings to Caribbean cruises with family, and from professional assignments overseas to missions in Australia and then Hungary, Howard relished the cultures he encountered. And he treated everyone—from remote island residents to heads of state—with the same respect and kindness.

Despite everything going on in Howard’s professional life, he always took time for family and friends. He loved working, playing games, and learning about people. A Richfield acquaintance told of Howard, upon returning to Richfield after his military service, going out of his way and crossing the street to greet her and ask about her family. A former campaign manager told how, at the end of the day, he left a stack of dozens of campaign letters for Howard to sign personally before they were to be mailed. When the manager returned in the morning, the letters had all been signed, and each had a hand-written personal note about something going on in the life of the recipient. “I hope your daughter is doing well at Utah State. She is such a charming young woman.” That sort of thing. Connecting on a personal level like this was Howard’s way; everyone was important to him.

Howard was preceded in death by wife Julie and his parents, Tayler and Zula Nielson, of Richfield, and by all of his siblings, Ross Nielson, Edith Tuft, Alta Hunt, Ruth Harvey, and Joseph Nielson. He is survived by his seven children, Noreen Astin (Steve), Elaine Taylor (Stan), John (Louise), Mary Lee Jackson (Paul), Jim (Marilyn), Jean Cundick (Clay), and Howard, Jr. (Mariko).

Family members will hold a private graveside service in Richfield where Howard’s body will be interred. They will hold a larger memorial service when such gatherings are advisable. In lieu of flowers or other remembrances, his family encourages you to join them in celebrating Howard’s life in the small ways his time on earth embodied: find someone to reach out to help, seek a way to serve in the community, or take a minute to learn something about another’s life. That is what would have meant the most to him.

Arrangements entrusted to Walker Sanderson Funeral Home. Condolences may be offered to the family at
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Ivan Brown Zundel

Posted at 01:51pm
I met Dr. Nielson the winter quarter of 1957-58. I was newly married [9/11/57] and did not have a degree option carved out at the time. Rapidly, he became a mentor and log time friend. I took every one of his classes and was also blessed that Dr. Del Gardner had joined the faculty at the same time as a protege of Milton Freidman whose classes I also took. When I graduated in 1960 Howard and Del arranged for me to be named the top student in the department and through Howard's contacts I was able to get a fellowship for further study in Statistics at the University of Wyoming which also had an outstanding faculty. After graduation I accepted a position with a consulting firm that had a contract with Dugway Proving Ground. There I was able to convince them to hire Howard on a consulting basis to assist in complicated experimental designs and analysis in the Chemical and Biological laboratories. Some years later I was working as a senior manager in a Defense organization where I often had extended assignments in the Pentagon. At that time, Howard was then in Congress and I often stopped by his office for a quick hello. He often introduced me to his staff and others as his BYU success story student [I am sure that phrase got used many times with others, but it meant a lot to me]. Howard was a truly great man that I have told family and friends many times remarkably saved me from what might otherwise have been a disastrous education and the logic he taught in his classes has helped me throughout my professional and church service life is ways too numerous to mention. My prayers are with his family at this time of his passing knowing that he was truly loved and respected by all who ever knew him. Brown Zundel [ also on Facebook as Ivan Zundel]

Bill Van Sickle

Posted at 12:10am
When I was an young boy scout, as part of my eagle scout preparation, I wrote a letter to Congressman Nielson to announce my eagle scout award that was forth coming. He wrote a letter back to me encouraging me to do with my life what ever I wanted and congratulations for obtaining my eagle scout. As fate would have it, seven years later I would marry his grand daughter and would get to know him on a more personal level. I never went to a family function where he didn't shake my hand and genuinely ask me how things where. He was a great man and I enjoyed the time I was fortunate enough to spend with him.

Laurie Williams Sowby

Posted at 02:59pm
Howard Nielsonwas my stats professor when I began grad school 10 years and four kids after graduating from BYU. I struggled, but he never failed to amaze me with his skills not only at the chalkboard but in relating to students. A few years later when I visited his office in DC, he still remembered my entire name and, unprompted, welcomed my mom as "Mrs. Williams". Many years later, one of his grandsons was one of the Barlow interns in DC while my husband and I were serving a mission there. His brilliant mind and kind, caring ways were a blessing to many. His family has a grand legacy to live up to. -- Laurie Williams Sowby

Mac Niel Ogden

Posted at 12:59pm
I grew up in the same Richfield Ward as Howard and the Nielson family. What great people. He had a great family and was a great benefit to our Country. Best wishes and condolences to his family at this tender time. Mac Niel Ogden

Rod Sylvester

Posted at 02:50pm
Dear Noreen, I was saddened to hear about your father passing. He was a great man and I have a fun memory that I would like to share with you. Just the day before he passed, I was telling this story to my sister about your dad. One of my friends has a Red 1966 Mustang like your dad's. My friend's car reminded me of when I drove my 1957 Chevy truck up to your house from Richfield to take you on a date. You had moved from Richfield to your home for the summer. I met your parents and your siblings for the first time. I think that your dad did not want me to take you on a date in my "old truck" perhaps because it was older and he did not trust his daughter to be in it. He told me that I could take you on the date in his new Ford Mustang. I could not believe that he would trust me (a 17 year old kid) to drive his nice Mustang. I had never driven a car that nice. We drove over to Der Wienerschnitzel I have always remembered the kindness of your father to trust me, a boy he had just met, to drive his nice car to take his daughter on a date. Also, one time you and I went out on a date and campaigned for him a little. He was running for Utah State House Representative. You saw a sign advertising your dad's opponent. You told me to stop. We parked the car next to the curb, got out and grabbed a handful of mud from the ditch. We smeared the mud across the campaign poster of the opponent. I guess you could say that we did a little "mud slinging" that night. I am sure that your dad would not have approved of what we did that night. Those are a few of the memories that I have about your dear dad. Thanks for the memories. If your family has a public memorial service for your dad, will you please let me know. I would love to attend and to see your siblings. I remember the older ones: Elaine, John, Mary Lee. It would be fun to see you all again. Best Wishes, Rod Sylvester, 14415 Palo Alto Drive, Herriman, Utah, 84096 email:, or text at phone no. 210-870-9840

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