In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 17, 2020, at his home in Vienna, Virginia; Bruce Henrie Nielson completed his mortal journey after a courageous battle with colon cancer. Born on September 14, 1959, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Bruce was the third of four sons born to Merrill Gene Nielson and Mary Kae Henrie Nielson. He is survived by his beloved wife of 39 years, Linda Alison Dougherty Nielson, by his brothers, Dean, Paul and Mark, and by his seven children, Jessica, Nathan (Stephanie), Jeffrey (Krista), Thomas (Leslie), Laura (Jordan Wade), Michael, and Mary Katherine (Mitchell Merrell). Bruce also leaves behind his ten grandchildren—Dean, Luke, Sierra, Aubrey, Maggie, Grant, Ezra, Eleanor, Ross and Maeve—as well as countless friends who loved him for his unfailing kindness and integrity.
As his father pursued a career in the United States Air Force, Bruce moved often in his childhood, spending time in the Philippines, Maryland, Thailand, Germany, Michigan and Ohio. Bruce returned to Germany between 1978 and 1980 to serve as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Munich. Shortly before completing his mission, his parents moved to Northern Virginia. It was there that Bruce met Linda, whom he married in June of 1981 in the Washington D.C. LDS Temple.
Bruce studied finance at Brigham Young University, earning his bachelor’s degree in 1984. He went on to Harvard Law School, graduating in 1987. Then it was back to Northern Virginia, where he worked as an attorney for 29 years in the Washington office of the law firm K&L Gates LLP. In 2016, he left private practice and followed his friend and longtime colleague Mike Missal to the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Bruce loved his country and took great pride in the military heritage in his family. He was grateful for the opportunity to work as a public servant in support of American veterans.
Life for an attorney at a large law firm is demanding, but Bruce’s legendary work ethic was up to the task. In November 1996, Bruce appeared before the United States Supreme Court, a high-water mark in the career of any attorney. But his most enduring achievement in the workplace was the influence he had on others. He showed genuine respect and kindness to everyone, from the lowest-paid worker in the mailroom to the highest-profile attorney in the firm. When his colleagues think of Bruce, they will feel a sudden craving for his famous chili, which regularly won first place at chili cook-offs. Then they will remember him as a brilliant lawyer and trusted friend who put his family and faith above all else.
Faith in Jesus Christ was the driving influence in Bruce’s life. While he was not afraid to share his faith with his words, he did so more frequently—and effectively—with his actions. He worked tirelessly and often anonymously to serve his community. Throughout his life, he faithfully filled church assignments that brought him in contact with youth. He loved the youth of the Vienna Ward and Oakton Stake. He was the force behind an annual mulch sale to raise funds in support of youth programs, and he loved planning and participating in high adventures with his scouting crew. In three separate summers, Bruce and Linda worked together to organize and lead a multi-day activity for hundreds of youth simulating the cross-country pioneer trek of early converts to the church.
When he played in a youth football league in Germany, Bruce’s team was the Cowboys. This kindled a lifelong love for the Dallas Cowboys, which he enjoyed flaunting among his friends deep in Redskins country. Bruce was also a passionate fan of BYU football and basketball and of the Washington Nationals baseball team. His favorite sporting events to watch were the ones his own children participated in.
Bruce was a man of simple tastes and long-settled routines. When he wasn’t helping someone move or camping with the scouts, he enjoyed doing puzzles, devising ways to keep squirrels off his bird feeder, and relaxing at the community pool at Vienna Woods. Throughout his career, he walked, rain or shine, to the Vienna Metro station as part of his weekday commute. On weekends he was easily recognized around town in his beloved green GMC Suburban, from which he often distributed to friends and neighbors the tomatoes and cucumbers that he grew in his garden. Bruce also read voraciously and widely, taking special interest in books about exploration and the sea. He argued throughout his life that the 1970s was the best era for popular music, and he loved to sing along with his kids to his large library of classic rock songs. In recent years, he traveled regularly with Linda to visit their children and grandchildren across the country and to unwind at their favorite beaches on the East Coast and in the Caribbean.
Bruce was fascinated by the digital world. An early enthusiast for e-commerce, he saw the world-changing potential of Amazon and e-Bay, from which he bought several suits and even a car. When he found a snack or gadget on Amazon that he liked, he sent one to each of his kids. Beginning in the late 1990s and continuing until he became sick in the mid-2010s, Bruce was inseparable from his digital camera. He was widely known as the unofficial photographer of church, neighborhood and family events. He leaves a massive collection of photographs capturing happy moments atop Old Rag (his favorite mountain to hike), deep in the Atlantic Ocean (he used a waterproof camera for scuba trips), and everywhere in between.
As a role model, Bruce was in a class of his own—a true North Star. All who knew him cherished his friendship, his ready smile and his charming sense of humor. Even in his suffering during the final years of his life, he never complained but maintained his optimism and graciousness. “It’s all good” was his mantra. Bruce loved people unconditionally and valued their strengths instead of dwelling on their flaws. In his heart, he had a special place for his sweet grandchildren, with whom he established loving bonds that will never be broken. They are his legacy and the fruit of a life honorably lived.
A Graveside Servcie will be on Saturday, May 23, at 12:00 noon, at the Lynndyl Cemetery, 450 East 100 North, Lynndyl. A Viewing will be held at the Nickle Mortuary, 190 S. Center St, 10:00-11:30 a.m., before travelling to the cemetery. All who attend should observe government-issued public health recommendations. The family plans to hold a memorial service for Bruce in Virginia when circumstances permit. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Humanitarian Aid Fund of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The video of the Graveside Service is available at https://youtu.be/RwRZeH3GiuM