He got to smell the roses… and deliver his own epitaph.
“When you help other people lift themselves up, there is no better feeling you can have,” Eliot Steinberg said in April at Morristown High School, where his three sons announced a $1 million scholarship honoring him and his late wife.
Steinberg died a few weeks later, just shy of his 95th birthday. On Saturday, June 2, 2018, people will gather at 3:30 pm in Morristown’s Temple B’nai Or to celebrate a man who helped lift many people up– by supporting the merger of Morris Township and Morristown schools when it was highly controversial.
It would take a court order to create the Morris School District in 1971.
“I thought having one school district would be a real plus for the society, for the town, and I’m glad it worked out that way,” Steinberg said in April.
Video: Eliot Steinberg’s last hurrah
A 2016 report released by the Century Foundation hailed the experiment for forging “what may be the most diverse school district in New Jersey,” with a “remarkably can-do spirit and a palpable will to succeed” that is a beacon for the state and the nation.
While that may seem obvious now, the merger was political nitroglycerin in 1969, when Steinberg served as president of the Township school board.
Those were turbulent times. America’s inner cities were going up in flames. Steinberg feared that could happen to Morristown if the Township built a separate high school. He was not afraid to say so.
“For the good of today’s children and those yet to come, I cannot lead in the direction that may even remotely bring about a segregated town,” Eliot Steinberg told the Daily Record in 1969.
Debbie Sontupe, executive director of the Morris Educational Foundation, said it’s an honor to administer the Steinbergs’ scholarship.
“Eliot was a true champion of education for the Morris School District,” Sontupe said.
The Steinbergs’ legacy will endure for generations, said District Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast.
“Our community will be forever indebted to Mr. Steinberg for his vision, wisdom, and commitment to the potential and promise of the Morris School District,” Pendergrast said. “We will continue to strive to fulfill that promise.”
Julian Steinberg said his father epitomized inclusivity.
“He was the kind of guy that was very accepting of everyone. Although he had certain opinions and beliefs, he did not exclude people with other opinions and beliefs,” Julian said.
As Eliot saw it at the time, “the challenge we face across the nation at all levels of government is to solve the urban crisis.”
He warned that “the socio-economic problem created by separatism will enhance the isolation of Morristown, thereby forcing the development of an ‘inner core’ community.
“For me, this sociological problem outweighs all others. It is incumbent on us to recognize this and take a stand even when such a position is not necessarily a popular one,” Eliot told the newspaper as the issue heated up.
The retired chemist and research director died on May 12 at the Cedar Crest community in Pompton Plains, where he lived an active life right to the end, his son said. He looked fine at the Morristown High School event. Days later, he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer.
“We’re really sorry to lose him, but he didn’t suffer long,” Julian said.
The Judy and Eliot Steinberg Scholarship helps students attend public universities based on their scholastic achievement, community involvement and financial need.
The first $100,000 awards are going to two high-achieving but economically strapped young women–one raised by a single mom, the other by Salvadoran immigrants.
Eliot Steinberg was raised by immigrants, too. His father came from Lithuania, his mother from Poland.
They raised him in Brooklyn, where he earned chemistry degrees at the Polytechnic Institute. During World War II he served as an Army medic. He started his career at Johnson & Johnson and spent 28 years at Warner Lambert, rising from senior scientist to director of research administration.
Eliot became director of governmental relations for the Industrial Research Institute in 1981, retiring seven years later.
He chaired the Research & Development Council of New Jersey, was a trustee of the Association of Research Directors, and was active in the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association and National Academy of Sciences.
In addition to leading the school board, Eliot served as president of Temple B’Nai Or and the Educational Assistance Fund of Morris County, and was a trustee of the Morris County Mental Health Association.
He was married for 62 years to Judy Silverstein. They raised sons Robert, Julian and Andy, and had eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren. After Judy died in 2009, Eliot found companionship with family friend Mitzi Szerlip, a widow.
Julian said his father stayed sharp by reading nonfiction, following current events, participating in a Democrats club at Cedar Crest and possibly, by adhering to a special diet.
“Maybe it was all the ice cream that he loved,” the son suggested.
Eliot is survived by his brother Charlie and his wife Helen; his sons and their spouses Kerry, Sue and Nancy, and his grandchildren and their spouses Abby, Scott, Sara, Max, Liam, Jeff, Bryce, Jecca, Will, Ian, Sammie, Zach, and a large extended family.
Because Eliot valued education so highly, his family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Steinberg Scholarship, which is administered by the Morris Educational Foundation. The Honorarium donation page allows for a note indicating the gift be used for the JES Scholarship.