Folsom Funeral Service

Gifford, Nelson S.



Nelson Sage Gifford of Westwood, Marion, and Wellesley MA passed away quietly with his family at his side on 20 December 2017 after a short illness at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. He was 87 years old.

“Giff” was a captain of industry within Massachusetts and beyond. After graduating from Tufts University B.A. in 1952 and serving one tour of active duty in the U.S. Navy as an officer during the Korean War, Nelson returned home to join Dennison Manufacturing Company in 1954 as an entry level accounting clerk. He advanced rapidly through the ranks to become President in 1972, and later Chairman and CEO in 1985, leading the transformation of a 19th century brick & mortar manufacturing company into a Fortune 500 global player. “Giff” championed innovative strategies (the introduction in 1976 of an  Employee Stock Ownership Program -ESOP). He invested in new technologies (Floppy Disks, Swiftach Tags,  Therimage) as well as strategies to improve efficiency, (Just-In-Time inventory management and  FlexTIME for working mothers). Dennison expanded into 20+ countries before “Giff” orchestrated its merger with AVERY in 1990.

As his success at Dennison grew, Nelson’s business acumen, experience, and strategies  were highly sought after and he was invited onto the Boards of Directors of prominent corporations: Bank of Boston, Boston Edison, John Hancock Life Insurance, NYPRO, M/A-Com, Reed & Barton, Woods Hole Oceanographic and J. M. Huber to list just a few. He was a past Chairman of the Massachusetts Business Round Table (his focus: Health Care) as well as participating in AIM: Associated Industries of Massachusetts. Nelson’s personal benchmark was Did I Just Serve or Did I Make A Difference?

Beyond the business community, Nelson was passionately dedicated to Philanthropy, targeting EDUCATION, HEALTHCARE, and THE ARTS.  Mirroring his business philosophy, Nelson aimed to make a difference — through his time, expertise, and resources. Notably his lifelong involvement with  Tufts University,\. Not only was he on the Board of Trustees  1978-1995 (Chairman 11 years), but he spear-headed a series of successful capital campaigns and personally funded multiple scholarships. The following is a sampling of his favorite charities over his lifetime: the Boys Scouts of America, The Pine Street Inn, New England Home for Little Wanderers, New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, Old Dartmouth Historical Society, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Museum of Fine Arts, The Fenway High School, McLean Hospital,  Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Toby Hospital, New England Baptist Hospital, the American Red Cross, The United Way, Dana Farber Cancer Research, American Heart Association, Joslin Diabetes Clinic, and to foster an open-minded discourse, both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Proudly claiming a “Swamp Yankee” heritage, he was the second son of Gordon Babcock and Harriette Rose (Dooley) Gifford. Born in 1930, he and his brother, the late Gordon Babcock Gifford, Jr., grew up in Waban, MA. He had many pursuits, a wartime job as a bank teller, a boy scout and ran an enterprising venture selling ice cream to his neighbors on Sundays. Nelson was one of the winners of the Massachusetts State Science & Engineering Fair, which brought him to the attention of Tufts University.

Married to the late Elizabeth (Brow) Gifford for 50 years, He is survived by his two daughters, Susan Gifford Fay of Reading and Diane Brow Gifford of Marion; his son Ian Christopher Gifford of North Chelmsford; his sister-in-law Gail (Bird) Gifford of Walpole; and his grandchildren: Jacqueline Fay Hickman and her husband Jason of Jupiter, FL; Bridget Lynn Fay of Shrewsbury, MA; Caroline Melissa Fay and John Michael Fay of Reading, MA; and Erin Kathleen Gifford, Kelli Rose Gifford, and Ryan Patrick Gifford of North Chelmsford, MA.

He was an avid sailor with the Beverly Yacht Club out of Marion, MA for over 45 years. He loved cruising the New England Coast with his family and friends, venturing from Nova Scotia down through the Intercoastal Waterway to the Florida Keys.  His core friends & family joined Nelson on charter boats and explored some of the most breathtaking coasts in the world. A few brave souls crewed for him in open ocean racing, including two Marion-Bermuda races.









                                 – George Chilian, Sr.

A Memorial Service will be announced in the new year.  In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to Tufts University in Memory of Nelson S. Gifford.

To make a gift through the mail, please write your check to Trustees of Tufts College, in the subject line include “In memory of Nelson Gifford.”  addressed Tufts University, PO Box 3306, Boston, MA 02241-3306

To make a gift on line, click



Guestbook Entries

  1. Dick Sutton & Judi
    December 23rd, 2017 | 12:13 pm

    We shall miss you. so very much, and will keep you in our hearts always,jajha

    DICK & Judi

  2. Dick Sutton & Judi
    December 23rd, 2017 | 12:19 pm

    We shall miss you so very much, and will keep you in our hearts always!

    Dick & Judi

  3. Tom and Judy Hagan
    December 23rd, 2017 | 1:25 pm

    DIANE… so sorry to hear about your Father, he was a true gentleman and will be sorely missed, please let us know if you need anything. Judy

  4. Peter and Jen Francis
    December 25th, 2017 | 12:04 am

    So sad to hear this. Diane — Jen and I do not have an e-mail for you otherwise we would have written directly.

    Know that we loved your Dad and will miss him terribly. We are traveling until after the New Year — hope to be able to make his service.

    Wonderful person and mentor to me (Peter)!! xoxoxox

  5. Peggy Toomey
    December 26th, 2017 | 4:37 pm

    So sorry to hear the passing of your dad he was such a great gentleman and friend to meet will miss seeing him at fox hill
    Peggy Toomey
    KMK Cleaners delivery person

  6. Steve Helm
    January 3rd, 2018 | 8:25 am

    So very sorry to hear of the passing of your Dad. My folks loved him between BYC and Marion and I had the opportunity to meet him a few times when visiting Marion and such a great guy. My Dad passed (Bob Helm) on the 12th of December, and no doubt he and Giff are somewhere on the high seas of heaven enjoying a Buzzards Bay heavy breeze under full sail. God Bless

  7. Valerie and Marc Bonetti
    February 2nd, 2018 | 9:49 am

    To the family: So sorry for your loss. Mr. Gifford was an amazing man. They don’t make them like that anymore. A true gentleman. They truly broke the mold after him. I loved to hear his stories about his travels and past experiences. His advice was always welcome. The boat rides over to Naushon for Howland’s Annual Company Outings were always a good time. He was always so gracious to bring us aboard. My husband Marc enjoyed talking about their Navy experiences. His smile and contagious laughter and everything about him will be missed!

    Marc and Valerie Bonetti (xoxox)

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