Roland George Olson

Roland Olson left high school to serve in the Navy.

KNOX — Roland George Olson was a quiet man who liked fixing things. A Navy veteran who served during both the Lebanon crisis and the Cuban missile crisis, Mr. Olson went on to have a career repairing heavy machinery.

“He was really a good mechanic. He fixed a lot of things,” said his twin brother, Eugene Olson.

He died on Monday, July 23, 2018. He was 77.

Born on April 7, 1941, he was the son of the late William G. and Helen M. Olson. His mother was a homemaker and his father was an ironworker. “He worked on bridges, without nets,” said Eugene Olson. “He fell four times. In 1954, he fell 69 feet.”

Roland Olson and his five siblings grew up in Albany. Throughout his life, he was close to his identical twin brother, Eugene.

“We’re mirror twins. He’s left-handed and I’m right-handed,” said Eugene Olson. Since that difference was invisible, people often confused one twin with the other.

“A lot of times, people would say, ‘Hi, Roland’ to me. I’d just say, ‘Hi,’” confided Eugene Olson.

“One time, when he was working on heavy equipment, I’m in the diner. This guy saw me and he told Roland’s boss he was in the diner having coffee instead of working,” Eugene Olson recalled with a chuckle.

In describing his brother’s personality, he recalled a serious, life-changing incident in their youth.

“He was kind of shy, like me,” said Eugene Olson of his brother. “We both got hit by a car when we were 10.”

He described that Sunday 67 years ago as vividly as if it were yesterday. The boys had just gotten back from a Sunday ride with their parents and decided to ride their bikes.

“We were putting air in our bicycle tires … A big old Packard run right over us. I was bleeding all over. He fractured his skull and had a broken leg … After we got hit, for 10 or 15 years, we sort of stuttered. We’d get excited and stutter. We were afraid people would laugh at us,” he said, explaining his and his brother’s shyness.

The Olson brothers went to Philip Schuyler High School but Roland left before graduating to join the United States Navy.

“He went to Lebanon during the Lebanon crisis,” said Mr. Olson, referring to the United States’ military intervention there in 1958.

“He was in the Cuban blockade during the missile crisis,” said his brother, which extended his service to four years and six months. “They held him over because of the problem with Cuba,” said Eugene Olson.

Roland Olson was also stationed in France, Italy, and Africa, his brother said, and was a lifelong member of Altamont’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post.

“He was a repair tender and learned to be a machinist,” said Eugene Roland of his brother.

After he completed his military service, Roland Olson got a job as a machinist. He helped build the South Mall in Albany, his brother said, and eventually got into the engineers’ union.

“He became a diesel mechanic for Caterpillar and made a lot of money,” his brother said.

 

Even as he battled cancer, Roland Olson continued to ride his mower.

 

The two brothers enjoyed hunting and fishing together in the Hilltowns and, in 1987, they decided to move to Knox. Eugene Olson said, “I bought a brand new 80-foot trailer in Knox Estates. He moved up with me and we shared it.”

Roland Olson then met and fell in love with the woman who lived in the trailer next door in Knox Estates, Nancy Blyth.

They married and moved to Florida, building a home in Citrus Springs. “We stayed real close,” said Eugene Olson. “I talked to him on the phone every day. He’d come up here every summer in his motor home.”

As Roland Olson battled kidney cancer, his brother said, “I took him to radiation treatment in Florida.”

Even as his condition worsened, his brother said, “He was always doing something. He’d ride his John Deere mower up until a month before he passed even though it hurt him so much … And he would still fix things on his motor home, thinking he’d drive it again.”

****

Roland George Olson is survived by his wife, Nancy Blyth, and by her children — James Blyth, Daniel Blyth, Andrea Borst, and Jemima Shinnerer — and her 10 grandchildren who adored him and called him “King.”

He is also survived by his siblings, William Olson, Eugene Olson, Caroline Allen, and Margaret Murphy.

His parents, William G. and Helen M. Olson, died before him, as did his brother, John, and his stepdaughter Carolyn Blyth.

Burial was in Florida National Cemetery, located near the city of Bushnell and administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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