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Fishburne Military School mourns loss of former board chairman T. Nelson Saunders

T. Nelson Saunders
T. Nelson Saunders. Photo courtesy Fishburne Military School.

T. Nelson Saunders, Fishburne Military School Class of 1949, successful entrepreneur and business leader, passed away on Feb. 5.

After graduating from Fishburne Military School, Saunders earned an undergraduate degree at Richmond Polytechnic (now Virginia Commonwealth University) and pursued his master’s degree at University of Richmond.

Saunders attributed much of his success in life to his time at Fishburne Military School and was eventually elected as the Chairman of the Fishburne-Hudgins Educational Foundation.

Edward C. ”Ted” Moroney, Fishburne Military School Class of 1973, F-HEF Trustee and former Board Chairman noted, “Nelson Saunders was a stalwart member of the Board of Trustees and served as a Foundation officer for 27 years, second only to his old friend J.B. Yount in years of service as an officer. Always insightful, he was directly involved in nearly every major policy decision for two decades. Nelson’s ability to simplify an issue, to articulate clear choices of action, and his passionate advocacy of the way forward was instrumental in the advancement of the school in the 1990s and 2000s.”

“I had the honor of working closely with Nelson, learning from him, and partnering with him all in the service of Fishburne Military School. As a young trustee, I was fortunate to be the recipient of his wisdom, guidance and direction, for his mentoring amounted to lessons in life. I will miss him dearly,” Moroney said.

As a teenager, Saunders went to work in the family business, Richmond Auto Parts, with locations throughout Virginia. He worked his way up to the position of sales manager, while at night pursuing his passion of building race cars.

He was one of the original members of NASCAR, where he and his partner, Alfred “Booby” Lane, became local legends throughout the state of Virginia. He maintained many of those NASCAR friendships throughout his life with such notables as Junior Johnson, Mike Wallace, Hut Strickland, Sonny Hutchins, Junie Donleavy and many others.

After his retirement from NASCAR, he never missed flying into Daytona for the Daytona 500 race.

Saunders was a lifelong entrepreneur. Among the successful businesses that he started and owned were Dominion Oxygen, Accu Industries, Intellicam, and Saunders Investment Properties.

Many of his businesses were located in the Hanover Industrial Air Park, where he was one of the key business leaders and a commercial real estate developer. He and his longtime business partner, James E. Holmes, built and owned many commercial properties, apartments, hotels and motels. He was an avid private pilot, fully instrument rated, and owned multiple airplanes. He and his lifelong friend and fellow pilot, H. Gilmer Beauchamp, spent many hours in the cockpit together.

His greatest pleasures in life were the friendships he developed during his business career and the love of his wife, children and family. He is survived by his wife, Suzanne Shelhorse Saunders; and his son, Thomas N. Saunders III (Gale); his two daughters, Suzanne L. Saunders Dennicourt (Clement) and Lisa B. Saunders; and all of their grandchildren. He enjoyed spending time at his river cottage at Horse Point, where he entertained friends, played tennis and worked on his yard.

He and his wife, Suzanne, were a fixture at many of Richmond’s finest restaurants such as the Capri, Little Venice, La Petite France, The Commonwealth Club, Chez Max, Buckhead’s, The Jefferson and Westwood Fountain. He was devoutly religious and never missed a family meal without a blessing and saying his prayers before bed.

Saunders enjoyed helping people. He was generous to several charities and privately giving to individuals needing help. He was a loyal supporter of Buford Academy, Fishburne Military School, St. Mary’s Hospital and the Pentecostals of Richmond Church. He enjoyed sharing his experience and guidance. He was always there to lend a helping hand to both friends and strangers in their time of need. He was very close to his employees and built a personal relationship. He was always there to help them when needed.


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