John and Melissa Ceriale are giving, generous Westporters. They’re involved in a host of philanthropic organizations and endeavors, and epitomize the best of Westport.
Melissa is particularly passionate about Montefiore Health Systems. The other day, she opened up her Greens Farms home — and breathtaking 8 acres of gardens — for an informational session. Two doctors from the Einstein campus gave fascinating talks about their specialties: addiction and depression.
I learned a lot, and was inspired to learn more — about those subjects, and Montefiore Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Just before she asked for questions, Melissa introduced a special member of the audience: Bill Morse. “He actually knew Einstein!” she said.
If that’s not a perfect “06880: where Westport meets the world” story, nothing is.
A couple of days later, I called Bill. The educational consultant — a Westporter since 1988 — has stories to tell.
They start with his father, Marston Morse. A noted mathematician, he spent most of his career on a single subject: Morse Theory (a branch of differential topology, and a very important subject in modern mathematical physics, such as string theory).
In 1935, Marston Morse was invited to join the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. His colleagues included Einstein, and Robert Oppenheimer.
Bill Morse was born in 1942. From the age of 4 until 13 — when Einstein died — the boy watched the world’s most famous scientist walk past his house, nearly every day.
“I would be playing or rollerskating,” Morse recalls. “He would shuffle past, in sandals and that long hair.”
Then Einstein would turn the corner, and walk past Oppenheimer’s house. (He may have been the most brilliant man on the planet. However, Einstein never learned to drive.)
Morse’s mother Louise was 20 years younger than his father. When she was just 30 years old, she was assigned to sit next to the physicist at an Institute dinner.
Einstein learned of the arrangement, and was worried. What, he asked others, could he possibly talk to her about?
Morse’s mother heard of Einstein’s concerns. She said, “And he thinks he’s got a problem?!”
Einstein heard her quip — and loved it. For the rest of his life, he always requested that she be seated next to him.
That story got plenty of mileage. Louise died a year and a half ago — at 105.
Bill also told me about the time Einstein said to Marston, “I don’t understand modern mathematics. Do you?”
Bill’s father did not reply. “It would have been crazy,” he told his son.
You don’t have to be an Einstein to write an “06880” post like this.
But it sure helps to know someone who knew him.