Dr. Ethel Read Nelson, of Dunlap, passed away the morning of January 28, 2021 at the age of 97. She was one month shy of her 98th birthday.
She was born in San Diego, California to Schuyler and Olive Read in 1923 and had two siblings, Mariah and Frances.
Dr. Ethel was a pathologist, and her husband, Dr. Roger Nelson, was a surgeon. She and Dr. Roger met when attending the Loma Linda University School of Medicine and married in 1946. In 1951, they found their calling and became missionaries in Bangkok, Thailand. There they started a family and raised their three children, Laurel, Orlyn, and Theodore, while working at the Seventh-day Adventist Mission Hospital. In addition to pathology, Dr. Ethel also practiced general medicine, including obstetrics, during their time in Bangkok. While there, Dr. Ethel started a school of medical technology and trained students from all over Asia.
Dr. Ethel was not only an accomplished pathologist, but also a loving and beloved mother. Although very busy with her work as a medical missionary, she always made time for her three children and often planned creative family vacations to exotic places. On one occasion, she planned a family trip with other missionaries and their families that had them take bamboo rafts down a river doing medical clinics for the remote villagers. The family trips she planned often made such an impression that many have become stories which her children have passed down to their own children. Their first mission trip to Thailand ended in 1968 when she and Dr. Roger moved their family to Reading, Massachussets so that their children could attend college in the United States. There, she and Dr. Roger practiced at New England Memorial Hospital until 1978 when they returned to their mission work in Bangkok after their children had all finished college. In 1983, they left Thailand for good, having spent over 22 years there, and settled in Dunlap.
Her research-oriented mind was ever curious, whether working on a medical mystery like hemorrhagic fever (Dengue) or working with Chinese characters. She was a prolific writer, not only in the medical field, where she wrote many published research papers, but she had many published books on her passion – ancient Chinese characters and their relationship to the biblical story of Genesis, her most recent being the co-written Oracle Bones Speak. In addition to these, she also wrote health books, such as 375 Meatless Recipes and Burkitt Cancer Fiber, a biography of Dr. Denis Burkitt. When not writing on these subjects, she enjoyed writing and illustrating storybooks for her grandchildren, bringing to life stories from her family’s time in Thailand.
Dr. Ethel was an energetic, creative, and optimistic woman who took on projects big and small. She was known for her big heart. She and her husband, Dr. Roger, helped many people over the course of their lives
through their medical work and by taking them under their wing, whether by encouragement, opening their home to them, or paying for their education.
She is survived by her three children, Laurel Damsteegt, Orlyn Nelson, and Theodore Nelson and their spouses, as well as her six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Gifts in Dr. Ethel R. Nelson’s name may be given to Amazing Facts, P.O. Box 1058, Roseville, CA 95678 (online at amazingfacts.org/donate-online/) or It Is Written, P.O. Box 6, Chattanooga TN 37401 (online at
Online condolences can be made at www.reedfamilyfh.com.
Arrangements by Standefer-Reed Funeral Home of Dunlap.