James Nero may not have been on the front pages of the District’s newspapers or a television star but he made a profound impact in his community and his church.
Nero, a resident of the District since 1938, died on Feb. 28 of undisclosed causes at the age of 84. A leader in the United Methodist Church, he was praised for his steadfast dedication to the causes and organizations that he worked for.
“It is on this occasion to rejoice the passing of James Herbert Nero,” the Rev. Ianther Mills, senior pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church, said in her eulogy at the church with more than 400 people attending. “A mighty oak has fallen. Some people say that James Brown was the hardest working man in show business but I say that James Nero was the godfather of Asbury and its hardest working trustee.”
Nero was born on Nov. 27, 1932 in Greenwood, Miss., to the late Richard and Minnie Mae Nero. He moved with his family to the District in 1938 and attended the District’s public schools.
Nero graduated in 1951 from Armstrong Technical High School and attended Howard University and the University of Hawaii before receiving his bachelor’s degree in business administration from George Washington University. He worked for the National Security Agency and retired from the federal government after 36 years.
A contingent of 11 Armstrong graduates were at the homegoing service. Nero served as the president of his alumni association as well as his 1951 class.
He was also an activist for seniors. Nero served on the board of the Downtown Clusters Geriatric Day Care Center as treasurer from 2000 until his death. “He fought hard for the elderly to stay strong,” Homasina Cave, the executive director of the day care center, told the AFRO. “He had the energy of the Energizer Bunny and was a gentleman with a special anointing of God.”
Nero’s biggest achievement with the center was his ability to persuade Asbury to house the center’s operations at a reasonable cost despite the reservation of some members of the board of trustees. He worked with the board to find a suitable financial arrangement with the church while keeping the center’s management abreast of possible places to relocate.
As a member of Asbury, Nero served as the former president of the United Methodist Men (UMM) and rose to become the vice president of the UMM’s Baltimore-Washington Conference. He passed away as president of the board of trustees and testified before the D.C. Council a few years ago when there were proposals by the District’s Department of Transportation to infringe on Asbury’s front lawn to accommodate a street car lane on K Street., N.W.
“He was unswerving and passionate about Asbury,” Josephine Baker, a member of the trustee board, said. “As the chairman of the board he ran a tight ship but he was always open to new ideas. He had a working knowledge of Asbury’s physical building and its history.”
One of Nero’s hobbies was carpentry and building maintenance and he played a key role in the refurbishing of the church’s social hall that serves as a meeting place for community groups, its homeless breakfast program and a Sunday night service.
Distinguished Washingtonians such as former Deputy Secretary of Commerce and present president of Africare Robert Mallett, and renowned Howard University surgeon Dr. Clive Callender attended the service. Bill Cox, publisher of Black Issues in Higher Education and his wife, Lee, traveled from Clifton, Va. to attend. Nero “was one of the best human beings I had the great fortune of knowing in my lifetime,” Lee said.
Nero’s widow, Lorraine, didn’t speak during the service but one of his sons, David, did. “My father was human,” David Nero said. “He made mistakes but he never quit doing what he thought was right.”