Nathan Eli Houser, Nate to his friends and family, Old Nate or Poppaw to his grandchildren, and Young Nate to his newly found love, died on Friday, November 24, 2023.
Nate was recently retired as a leading polymer chemist for DuPont, and resided in Waynesboro, Va.
Nate was born on October 21, 1942 in the farming community of Vale, N.C., to Eli Houser, a school principal, and Pauline Houser. Nate grew up as a farm boy, but left home for Appalachian State University at the age of 17, where he received his undergraduate degree in chemistry. A year of teaching convinced him not to follow in his father’s footsteps; after receiving his doctorate from the University of North Carolina, he began a long and successful career at DuPont as a research scientist, where he was credited with 14 patents and, along with his esteemed colleagues, advanced the development of Lycra and Spandex into the product we enjoy today. He traveled the world for DuPont, leading the rollout of new products and new methodologies.
As a young man, Nate developed a deep love of nature and spent his free time canoeing or fishing rivers throughout North and South America, hiking or skiing in the mountains, or boogie boarding at the beach, and he continued to enjoy an active life to the very end. He gifted his six grandchildren with a love of downhill skiing, camping, and the ocean. He was a longtime member of the Coastal Canoeists and other outdoors organizations, and was a lifelong donor to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Nate was a keen scientist and “mechanic,” famous for keeping his ancient chain saws buzzing, making his own special glue, and being able to fix anything. Nate was always eager to tackle a new challenge, whether building a play set for the children, fixing the lawn mower or tractor, or constructing buildings when needed. He was an avid hobby farmer and famous for his pickles, notably his pickled okra. He was committed to higher education and made sure that his grandchildren attended the institutions of their choice and pursued the highest degree. He was proud that this included a doctorate, with another on the way. He was also a card shark, known for hilarious, cutthroat games of Hearts or Capitalism with the family, in which games he was known as Old Evil Eye.
Nate was married to Melba Stinnett Houser for nearly 60 years. Together, they traveled where DuPont sent them, making homes in Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Delaware before retiring to their final home on the East River in Mathews, Va. It was here that Nate developed an intense love of sailing, enjoying both the marriage of the water and the weather (he loved to track the weather), and the technical nature of navigation and maintaining the complex machinery of the boat. He and Melba made great friends in Mathews through their church, Central Methodist, and the Mathews Yacht Club, and the sailing community.
Nate and Melba lost their beloved son, Michael (“Mikey”) Houser, cofounder and lead guitarist of the celebrated Athens, Ga.-based band “Widespread Panic,” in 2002 to pancreatic cancer. Nate traveled with and cared for Michael on his final tour with the band. The loss devastated Nate. He remained a devoted Widespread Panic fan, traveling to Red Rocks, Colo., as recently as this summer to see them perform and visit Mikey’s shrine on Aspen Mountain.
Nate lovingly cared for his wife Melba, an accomplished painter, until her death from Alzheimer’s in 2022. His seemingly limitless compassion for her was an inspiration to family and friends.
Nate was gifted a miracle in the last year of his life: finding a new friendship and love with Jeanie O’Brien of Harrisonburg, Va. Together, they played and laughed and traveled the world. Jeanie taught Nate how to relax and enjoy leisure time—something he’d barely allowed himself before. He had a pedicure, grew his hair long, and “learned to dance to the music once again.” Jeanie also helped Nate slow down and enjoy time with his grand- and great-grandchildren, sharing his love and laughter with them. He made quite the splash at the Richmond Monument Avenue Easter Parade earlier this year, wearing a ridiculous, multicolored floral hat that he and Jeanie crafted alongside the great-grandchildren.
Nate died peacefully at his daughter Missy’s home surrounded by loved ones, with a view of the beautiful farm he helped to plant and the autumnal sun slanting through the window. He was a larger-than-life figure among those who knew him, and he will be dearly missed. He is survived by his daughter, Missy Jaroneski and daughter-in-law, Barbette Houser of Richmond, Va.; his six grandchildren, Maggie (Randy) Cosby and Waker Houser of Richmond, Madeline (Aman) Sanderford of Washington, D.C., Merry (Ben) Richmond of Raleigh, N.C., Miranda Jaroneski of Richmond, and Eva Houser of Boston, Mass.; his siblings, Sandy Houser Brooks and Bennett Houser of Vale, N.C., and Nelson (Betty) Houser of Greensboro, N.C.; and his December love, Jeanie O’Brien, and her children Kara (Kate) O’Brien, Kyle (Kelly) O’Brien, and Shannon (GJ) Leblond. Nate was in love with his four great-granddaughters, and excited about meeting his first great-grandson who is expected any day.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Mikey Houser Pre-Amped music program at Nuci’s Space in Athens, Ga. (www.nuci.org/mikey-houser-pre-amped) or the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (www.appalachiantrail.org).