William Rankin Nelson was born in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1921, and had his undergraduate and medical education at the University of Virginia. He went to Vanderbilt University Hospital, Nashville for his internship and then had a two-year military tour. He was at the Medical College of Virginia, Richmond for an assistant residency, followed by residency at the University of Virginia. He spent three years at Memorial in New York City during part of which time he was a National Cancer Institute trainee.
In 1955, William moved to Denver to set up practice, where he received faculty appointment at the medical school, rising through the ranks to clinical professor of surgery in 1987. He served a number of organizations in the Denver area, being president of the Colorado Division of the American Cancer Society from 1975 to 1977. He also served the ACS on the national level, being on the credentials committee in 1989.
William received a number of honors, an important one being the 1966 residents’ award for outstanding teacher among the volunteer staff members in Denver. His publications cover a wide range of subjects with oncology, including reports on carotid body tumors in 1962 and 1992. William worked hard with Jack Lore on an attempted organizational challenge, the concept of having the Boards of otolaryngology, plastic surgery and general surgery issue a certificate of added qualifications for those who underwent training in head and neck oncologic surgery.
William’s contributions were recognized not only by his election to the presidency of the SHNS in 1986, but also by his being chosen for the presidency of the Society of Surgical Oncology in 1976.