After seeing your fascinating issue on Einstein at Princeton I was reminded of a wonderful story that my beloved late husband, Tim Smith ’57, shared with me and others about his time as an undergraduate at Princeton. He and his friend Hugh Cannon ’57 were studying in the library late one night and were taking a study break out in the entrance vestibule. They suddenly looked up and saw an old professor with a load of books coming down the narrow hall. They noticed the sandals and then the hair, and with shock and awe, they confirmed that it actually was the great Einstein. For Tim, Einstein was not only the genius of contemporary physics, but also the consummate moral genius. They were stunned and had no idea what to say in this close encounter with such greatness in the tiny passageway. But when Einstein approached, the friends, without even a word to confer, spontaneously and reverently bowed since of course no words would have been sufficient. Einstein stopped right in front of them and stared deeply into their eyes. Tim said he could recall the details of his gaze throughout his whole life. And then, with the great humility and humanity that Einstein always embodied, he bowed back to them.
Many decades later when Tim retired from full time teaching as a Professor of the Foundations of Education at Hofstra University, a big retirement party was held for him where this story was recounted. One of speakers said that of course everyone could recognize and appreciate the genius in the great Einstein; but Tim, as an empathic and inspiring teacher, was the rare person who was able to discover and encourage the hidden genius in so many undergraduate and graduate students. At the end of the event the gathered crowd was obviously moved and spontaneously rose and bowed to Tim. Years later in 2018 at the memorial held for Tim’s passing, one of his many former students, a professor himself, gave a moving tribute to Tim referencing that unforgettable experience with Einstein entitled “Tonight We Bow Back.” And once again they did.