Nobel laureate John Nash, wife Alicia remembered in N.J. for fighting stigma of mental illness

By Susan K. Livio | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

alicia and john nash image, mental illnessAs news spread about the deaths of John Nash and his wife, Alicia, following an accident on the N.J. Turnpike Saturday, their obituaries heralded his career as a world-renowed mathematician, her role as his caretaker when schizophrenia upended their lives, and the 2001 Oscar-winning movie, “A Beautiful Mind,” that defined them as public figures.

But a close friend Sunday stressed the Nashes should also be remembered for their dedication to helping eradicate the stigma of mental illness, as well as their advocacy on behalf of their son, John, who also lives with schizophrenia.

They were active with organizations that had helped him, such as Catholic Charities, The Mercer County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Association for Advancement of Mental Health, Debra Wentz said.

Wentz developed a close friendship with the Nashes after meeting them in her role as CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies.

“They were very much a member of the mental health community as a family,” Wentz said. “There are no words that can just truly capture the loss or what great people they were. They were heroes for so many reasons. They were faced with adversity and yet have given so much back to others.”

Although Nash is recognized for his achievements in math and winning the Nobel Prize for economics, Wentz said, the couple “functioned as a team,”

“She made his life and accomplishments possible,” Wentz added.

Nash’s rise as a mathematical genius began in the early 1950s when he graduated from Princeton University and accepted a teaching job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a year later. He met Alicia Larde, a physics major, and they married in 1957. The next year, Fortune magazine named the 30-year-old Nash one of the most promising mathematicians in the world.

The voices in his head began to overtake his thoughts on mathematical theory, however, and he quit his job in 1959, when Alicia Nash was pregnant with their son. During this time, Alicia Nash had him involuntarily committed several times, including twice in New Jersey, at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital and Carrier Clinic. Her actions created a rift in their relationship and they divorced in 1962, but he often returned home. Alicia worked as a computer programmer for NJ Transit, to support both him and their son. They remarried in 2001.

In 1994 he was awarded the Nobel prize in Economics for his revolutionary work on “game theory,” the mathematics of decision-making, which he had completed decades earlier during graduate school. Wentz said the couple understood the delayed recognition was due to the stigma surrounding his illness.

“The loss of John and Alicia is a tremendous loss on so many levels. The courageous work they did in fighting stigma … by lending their very private life story to the movie and the unauthorized biography,” Wentz said. “There are many elements that make their life compelling and loss so much greater.”

Alicia Nash spoke often about her concern for her son, “Johnny,” who lived with them in the Princeton Junction section of West Windsor. In a 2009 interview with The Star-Ledger, Alicia Nash said he and her husband were willing to speak publicly about their family’s experiences with mental illness because they wanted to be assured community programs would continue after they were gone. “When I am gone, will Johnny be living in the street?” she said.

Wentz said she is “devastated” by the loss of her friends, and looks back on their incredible lives with awe. “At the end of the day, they were very caring, down-to-earth people.”

Source: Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com.

 

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released her new book, “It’s More Than Money, Protect Your Legacy” available at Amazon.com. To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit, http://www.patriciaannino.com.

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