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A Mundane End to a Remarkable Story

Car crashes are a scourge of modern life. Rich and poor, young and old, famous and anonymous—no one is exempt from the risk. We know this to be true, but are lulled into forgetting…until the risk materializes again.

Direct exposure likely breaks the denial cycle forever. The loss or serious injury of a family member or close friend in a car crash is unforgettable. But even indirect exposure through media coverage of extraordinary people who are injured or killed in crashes may act as a powerful reminder.

Recently, on Saturday, May 23rd, 2015, John F. Nash Jr. and his wife of 58 years, Alicia, died in a taxi crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. They were un-seat-belted passengers in the taxi. Media reports say the taxi driver lost control while trying to pass another car, hit a guardrail and another vehicle, the force of which ejected the couple from the taxi. They were pronounced dead at the scene.

The taxi driver and the driver of the other vehicle were treated in hospital for non-life threatening injuries. Dr. Nash was 86 years old and his wife was 82, both from a generation that was not brought up to the use of seatbelts. These people were in their twenties during the era of the 1950’s – a time when seatbelts in vehicles were rare, non-standard equipment.

While the survival rate for elderly people involved in even relatively minor car crashes is generally lower than for other younger age categories, non-seat-belt wearers of all ages and fitness levels are at the mercy of forces beyond the limits of human endurance.

For anyone of any generation, it may be tempting when riding in taxis to not bother hunting for the often hidden seat belts or trying to adjust them to fit or figuring out where and how to click them on.

The crash involving Dr. Nash and his wife is more newsworthy than other such tragedies because Dr. Nash was the subject of a book made into a movie, A Beautiful Mind, which, in 2002, won four academy awards and a large worldwide audience. He was a mathematical genius who, in the 1950s, while still young produced theories that “inspired generations of mathematicians, economists, and scientists.”

In his early 30s, however, Dr. Nash developed paranoid schizophrenia which rendered him unable to continue his work and research—he was a consultant to the RAND Corporation and an instructor at MIT—until, some 30 years later, he “emerged from irrational thinking” and at about that same time was awarded with two other economists the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics.

Dr. Nash’s wife Alicia, described as “an MIT physics major from an aristocratic Central American family” divorced him in 1963 but continued to care for him throughout the years of his illness and they remarried in 2001.

As is often the way, we have here an avoidable and mundane end to a remarkable story.

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