By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
6:10 PM EST, January 25, 2013
Edward V.C. Nicol, a retired Social Security Administration public affairs representative who earned the name of "Mr. Meals on Wheels" for his more than three decades of volunteer work, died Jan. 13 of pneumonia at the Presbyterian Home of Maryland in Towson.
The longtime Rodgers Forge resident was 96.
The son of Presbyterian missionaries, Edward Van Cleve Nicol was born in Minneapolis while his parents were on furlough from their mission work in Beirut.
In 1918, Mr. Nicol and his family returned to Beirut, where he graduated from the American Community School in 1934. He returned to the United States for college, earning a bachelor's degree in 1938 from Oberlin College.
During the late 1930s, he began working for the SSA as a field representative in Youngstown, Ohio.
"One of his jobs was trying to convince people that their Social Security number would not be used for identification purposes, and we all know what happened with that," said his daughter, Susan N. Saunders of Govans.
While working in Youngstown, Mr. Nicol met Mary Chuey on a blind date. They married in 1941.
Mr. Nicol joined the Army Air Forces in 1942, and because he was fluent in French from his days living in Beirut, he served as an interpreter at military bases in Senegal and Morocco. In 1944, he was discharged and returned to the SSA.
He remained in Youngstown until being transferred to the regional office in Cleveland. In 1951, he was transferred to headquarters, which in those days was located in the Candler Building in downtown Baltimore. He later moved to Woodlawn when the agency relocated there in the early 1960s.
Mr. Nicol worked in public affairs and traveled the country teaching public speaking to SSA field representatives.
"Their job was to explain the Social Security program to people of varying educational and language abilities, especially migrant workers," said his daughter. "He also taught public speaking and had a lifelong love of clarity and simplicity in speaking and writing."
After retiring from the SSA in 1971, Mr. Nicol went to work two years later as a Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland volunteer.
In addition to delivering meals, he staffed five routes and served on the organization's board of directors.
Faye H. Carey, deputy executive director of development and communications for Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, is a longtime friend and colleague.
"He was a wonderful guy with an interesting background. I've been here 25 years, and he was already here when I first came on board. The first thing I was told I had to do was meet Ed Nicol," said Ms. Carey.
"Ed was very talkative and caring, and liked visiting the clients by himself. He just didn't drop off the food and move on, he'd like to spend time with them," said Ms. Carey. "It is a value of the work. You get to know people and develop relationships, and this is what he did."
She added: "Some of the clients live alone, and sometimes the only person they see is from Meals on Wheels."
Ms. Carey said the food is prepared at the organization's Highlandtown kitchen and then delivered to distribution points where volunteers pick it up and deliver it to clients.
Mr. Nicol worked out of the Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill, she said.
"He worked five days a week and was out in all kinds of weather," said Ms. Carey. "He took care of about 15 clients. As he got older, his family began to worry about his driving. We were out one day, and he asked me, 'How's my driving?' and I said it was better than the young people I ride with."
When he wife became ill, Mr. Nicol was forced to retire in 2005 in order to care for her. She died in 2006.
"Then he became a client, and he was being helped by volunteers he had worked with," said Ms. Carey.
In 2011, Mr. Nicol wrote a poem about Meals on Wheels and was filmed reading it. The video was posted on the national Meals of Wheels website, and an article about him and the poem in the organization's newsletter gave him the sobriquet of "Mr. Meals on Wheels."
Mr. Nicol and his wife shared a mutual passion for music, literature, and civil rights and equality.
The Rev. John T. Middaugh, then pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill, was arrested during the famous 1963 sit-in at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Woodlawn, which denied admission to African-Americans.
"They were so moved by Dr. Middaugh's witness for social justice that they joined his church," said his daughter.
Mr. Nicol became a deacon and an elder at the church, where he remained a member until 2006, when he transferred his membership to Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church, which was closer to his Heathfield Road home in Rodgers Forge.
A theater aficionado, Mr. Nicol had acted in plays starting with the Trumbull New Theater in Warren, Ohio. Locally, he acted with the Vagabonds, the Player's Company, Hopkins Players and the Woodbrook Players.
He and his wife traveled all over the United States.
Mr. Nicol remained active well into his 90s. He belonged to two writing groups, a book club and a lunch group.
He also liked writing poetry. He had written and published "One Brief Moment," a memoir of his years in Beirut, and was a regular writer of letters to the editor.
After breaking a leg last year, Mr. Nicol left Rodgers Forge and moved to the Presbyterian Home.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 23 at his church, 6200 N. Charles St. in Woodbrook.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Nicol is survived by a sister, Margaret Gutelius of Sun City Center, Fla; two grandsons; and three great-grandchildren.