September-October 2013

A tribute to Erik Nielsen, former TDCAA training director

Andrew Smith
TDCAA Sales Manager

Erik was the first at the office and the last to leave almost every day. He could make anyone and everyone feel included. He was always up for a game of “Where Is My Head?” (a game we made up) and could recite the entirety of Les Miserables, note for note. His laugh attacks could be heard from outside the building. The first thing he thought was the first thing he said, which meant that an honest and sincere comment was always coming. We will miss him indeed.

Shannon Edmonds
TDCAA Staff Attorney

Everyone who has worked with Erik can agree on at least one point:  You rarely had to wonder where Erik was. Having worked several doors down from Erik’s office for lo these many years, it was always entertaining to hear what new sound would come rolling down the hallway next. Uninhibited, spontaneous laughter was the most common, but sometimes I would catch certain “unprintables” floating my way (usually after a seminar speaker cancelled at the last minute). This unpredictable background noise could occasionally make it a challenge for Erik’s coworkers to conduct serious phone calls with those outside the office (including people at the state capitol, ahem!). But more often, it was a welcome respite from whatever we were working on at the time, providing us an invitation to stretch our legs and wander over to see the latest and greatest Internet video of someone trying to dive into a frozen pool or a poor reporter trying her hand (feet?) at stomping grapes into wine, with disastrously funny results. Now that he’s left, I realize that small moments like that help coworkers bond over things other than their work and that we will miss Erik’s mastery at bringing people together for a common purpose—even if that purpose didn’t always fall within the mission statement of the association.

Richard Alpert
Assistant Criminal ­District Attorney in ­Tarrant County

I had the pleasure of working closely with Erik at least twice a year as course director for TDCAA’s Prosecutor Trial Skills Course. Erik’s boundless energy and enthusiasm gave each seminar a boost of adrenalin that carried me and the 20-plus faculty advisors through a week of education and bonding. His passion for teaching and his spontaneous energy made every training he was part of better for his presence. He is one-of-a-kind, and whichever office snags him will benefit greatly from his knowledge, talent, and passion for the profession.

Lauren Marfin
TDCAA Research ­Attorney

I started working at TDCAA in the middle of one of our trainings, so I didn’t get to meet Erik until my second week here. I can distinctly remember the vast difference in the volume level within the office my first week versus the second, when Erik returned. The singing! The laughing! The endless supply of movie and TV quotes for every occasion! It’s safe to say Erik was TDCAA’s resident entertainer.

When Erik asked how your day was going, it was apparent he really cared about the answer. He was always ready and willing to help when I had a tough question. And if he didn’t know the answer, he could always point me to someone who would because Erik knows, and is friends with, just about everyone in our prosecutor network. He is very much missed around here, and the training hallway is a much quieter place without him.

Sarah Wolf
TDCAA Communications Director

I always marveled at Erik’s energy, that he didn’t seem to ever get tired or worn-down. That vigor applied to everything from stuffing name badges before a seminar to playing ping-pong during a break at the office, and it’s something I’ve long admired about him. Also admirable is his sheer intellect:  How he kept so much information (both law- and “Simpsons”-related) in his head is really beyond me, but I always felt blessed to be on the receiving end of his knowledge. He is so generous with all of his many gifts.

Rob Kepple
TDCAA Executive Director

“All in.” That is how I would describe Erik Nielsen’s dedication to our profession. In the last eight years, TDCAA training has had the benefit of Erik’s experience, energy, and enthusiasm.  I am most grateful for his work in developing our Train the Trainer programs and bringing to our seminars a strong and experienced faculty. He has done a terrific job for Texas prosecutors, and although he will remain a prosecutor at heart (thank goodness), I know you will miss his energy and expertise at all the TDCAA seminars. That, and his man-hugs.

Diane Beckham
TDCAA Senior Staff Counsel

In 2000, when TDCAA was looking for a new research attorney, I asked a friend who worked at the Court of Criminal Appeals for recommendations. She told me we need look no further than the first-year lawyer working with her in Judge Tom Price’s office: Erik Nielsen. Not only was he smart, hilarious, detail-oriented, and diligent, he apparently danced for her every morning. We were sold.

Although Erik didn’t dance every morning he worked at TDCAA, I can’t think of a single morning we didn’t hear him singing, laughing, shouting, or all three. He is a guy who will never fail to tell you what is on his mind—including how what he has just eaten is affecting his digestive system. The digestion update I will never forget came seconds before Erik and I began a three-hour legislative update presentation after Erik had wolfed down a multi-plate Mexican food lunch. After a different legislative update, Erik and I (amped up on the drive home after the crowd had laughed in all the right places and our presentation felt effortless) demonstrated how difficult it was to find the right key for singing “The Lord’s Prayer” by singing it—start-to-finish—about 50 times. (Like “The Star Spangled Banner,” it is critical not to begin on a pitch too high or too low.) The drive from Dallas to Austin in rush hour is a long one, and I’m still surprised that John Brown, our former CFO, didn’t pull the TDCAA Suburban over and kill us.

Manda Herzing
TDCAA Meeting Planner

I don’t think anyone really understands all the work Erik put in leading up to a training or conference. They saw the easy-going, affable Erik running the show on-site and very often would say to him: “I want your job!” But it takes more than being a people person (which Erik certainly is)—his position required him to be a people manager as well, which takes patience, endurance, follow-up, and finesse.

We will always remember the fun times we had with Erik, because he truly did bring the fun wherever he went. But he should also be recognized for his eight years of creating and sustaining an intricate, well-oiled machine that has given TDCAA such a stellar reputation for its high-quality training. And we will definitely miss the “fun” Erik, in the office and on the road.