Nelson Britto was born the youngest of eight in New Bedford, MA. His parents, Antonio and Palmyra Britto, were both immigrants from Madeira, Portugal.
Opportunity in New Bedford was limited for Nelson and his siblings. Nelson’s sisters found good jobs at the Embassy of Portugal, and he joined them in Washington, DC the summer after his junior year of high school.
Nelson went on to college at Georgetown, attending as a day-hop. He lived with his sisters on Rodman Street and worked at the soda fountain of People’s Drug store on Connecticut Avenue. Despite a busy schedule of classes and work, he found time to stay up all night playing cards with his fellow students, and made lifelong friends of his bridge partner and their opponents.
At the end of his junior year, he met Kay Martin, an inquisitive young woman from Falls Church, at a graduation party. When she asked him if he had graduated, he deadpanned, “No. I failed.” Nelson graduated the following year, and after serving in the navy, he married Kay at St. James in Falls Church. She continued to fall for his bluffs for at least the first 20 years of their marriage.
For most of his career, Nelson worked long hours at IBM to support his and Kay’s growing family. In the 1980’s, he traveled extensively for his role in export regulations. Much of his work was with partners behind the Iron Curtain. He developed an appreciation for the ingenuity of the staff in the Prague office, a love of their city, and a fondness for Pilsner Urquell on draft.
In retirement, Nelson and Kay moved to Wrightsville Beach, NC. Nelson began volunteering with the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle project, and as a result of this experience, he became passionate about coastal protection issues, such as dark skies, wetlands preservation, and watershed management. Nelson also volunteered as a guide for school groups at the Cape Fear Museum, served on the Wrightsville Beach Planning Board, and as a New Hanover County Master Gardener.
He converted the flower bed in front of his house to a bountiful vegetable garden. Nelson loved to hand out fresh tomatoes to families on their way to the beach–a practice for which he became known as The Tomato Man of Wrightsville Beach.
Nelson took 15 international trips with family in his retirement. In 2003, he hiked the Camino de Santiago and was named the Role Model of the Month at the Wilmington YMCA. He enjoyed working out at the Y almost much as he enjoyed seeing his friends there.
In June of 2021, Nelson and Kay moved to Ashby Ponds in Ashburn, VA to be closer to family.
Nelson was proud of his Portuguese heritage, his Jesuit education, and perhaps most of all, the five children he shared with Kay.
Nelson Britto is survived by his wife of 64 years, Mary Martin Britto (known as Kay) and their children: son Greg and his wife Laura, daughter Maria, son Mark and his wife Jennifer, son Jamie and his partner Barbara ter Haar, daughter Kathleen and her husband Edward Schaaf. He is also survived by three generations of nieces and nephews and by many wonderful friends.
Nelson will be remembered for his mischievous sense of humor, his generous hospitality, his devotion to his family, and his commitment to the Catholic faith. For his children, he remains a steadfast example of what can be accomplished with determination and the support of family.
The family plans to hold a memorial service and interment ceremony at St. Mary’s Historic Church in Fairfax, VA later this spring.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Families-in-Need fund at Park View High School. Nelson’s daughter Kathleen served as a librarian at Park View for five years, and Nelson sometimes saw himself in the hardworking students Kathleen encountered. This gift is also intended to honor the many wonderful young people who work at Ashby Ponds and who treated Nelson with exceptional kindness in the final year of his life. Checks may be mailed to Park View High School, attn: Marcela Cruz, 400 W Laurel Ave, Sterling, VA 20164. Please write “Britto” on the memo line. Electronic payment may be made to the donation account of Park View High School (Activity No. DB006-VAR13). Please write “Britto” in the description field.