Letter to the Family, Friends, and Colleagues of John and Alicia Nash

Oct. 26, 2015

Good evening:

Thank you for the opportunity to share a few words in honor of John and Alicia Nash, beloved members of the Princeton University community.  While I cannot be with you in person, please know that my heart and my thoughts are with all who join together today to celebrate two genuinely legendary members of the Princeton community.

John was a gifted and luminous mathematician.  None of you need me to tell you that.  Others will testify to his genius more knowledgably and eloquently than I could.  And, in any event, you have his Nobel Prize and his Abel Prize as incontestable evidence of his extraordinary achievement.

Nor do you need me to tell you about the unforgettable, nearly mythical lives that he and Alicia lived.  Again, you will hear from people who knew John and Alicia far better than I did, and, in any event, you have a marvelous biography and a blockbuster Hollywood movie to recount their stories.

I hope, therefore, that you will permit me to share some more personal remembrances, modest and unimportant though they may be.  I first encountered John Nash when I was an undergraduate here during the 1980s.  I had not the faintest idea who he was.  He was in the depths of his schizophrenia, and he was a ghostly and—to a young student—mysterious presence around Fine Hall, where I frequently studied.

I can still remember the sense of pure, gobsmacked astonishment that I experienced when, more than a decade after my graduation, I saw John’s picture in connection with the news of his Nobel Prize.  His story was almost too incredible to be believed.

That story touched many people.  When John and Alicia died, I received notes of condolence sent to Princeton University from around the globe—from academics and alumni, from sultans and socialites, from people who would not ordinarily take an interest in the life or death of a mathematician, even one who was a Nobel Laureate.

The world felt a personal connection to John and Alicia Nash, and people around the globe felt a personal loss when they died so suddenly.  Through the magnificence of John’s achievements, their shared courage in the face of his illness, and the many unexpected turns in their remarkable lives, John and Alicia embodied for millions of people both the exhilaration of human aspiration and the sorrow of human tragedy.

Of course, in this community we knew John and Alicia more personally, not as characters in a legend but as friends, as people, and as Princetonians.  We also knew John as a scholar and a colleague.  And he knew this community as a home where, after so many years, he was able to renew the mathematical investigations that meant so much to him, and that he performed so brilliantly.

John’s scholarly legacy will continue at this University and beyond in the work of mathematicians, economists, and scientists who build on his dazzling discoveries.  The worldwide legend of John and Alicia will endure as a unique story of struggle and redemption.  And the personal memory of John and Alicia will live on in the hearts of this community, among those fortunate enough to have known them as individuals, as colleagues, and as friends.

I join all of you in mourning their loss and in honoring their remarkable lives.

With sympathy and respect,

Christopher L. Eisgruber