In Memoriam: Al Johnson, Aron Bernstein, Ed Furshpan

MAPA Update March 2020

Al Johnson, Aron Bernstein, and Ed Furshpan
Al Johnson, Aron Bernstein, and Ed Furshpan

Al Johnson and Bernie tweet

Al Johnson of Veterans for Peace and the Bernie Sanders Campaign

Al Johnson passed away peacefully on the night of January 1, 2020, surrounded by Cindy, his wife of forty years, close friends and loved ones. Pat Scanlon, former Veterans for Peace/Smedley Butler Brigade chapter coordinator, described Al’s lifetime of activism in a message sent to friends the next day:

“For those who knew Al, he was so committed to the things he believed in and his energy seemed boundless. If Al was a participant in anything, he was all in. His determined and unwavering commitment to causes was contagious.  He was committed and believed in Veterans for Peace and our mission. All can remember his steadfast support for Chelsea Manning. Al kept Midnight Voices alive and thriving after Eric Wasileski moved to Western Mass. For the past year, Al was all in, in support of Bernie Sanders. His commitment was so evident and infectious to those who worked with him on the campaign. He could have a cancer treatment one day and be canvassing in New Hampshire the next. His tireless work and dedication to causes was inspirational.

“One note about Al’s work on Bernie’s campaign. On the day before Al was moved to the ICU, he was quite ill; he was in his hospital room, and during that day he made over 200 phone calls in support of the Sanders campaign…in between his treatments and test and the hustle bustle of the hospital, with nurses, docs and technicians coming in and out. That is commitment, that is inspirational, that was Al. My friend, may you rest in peace.

“Al Johnson: Presente!”

—Pat Scanlon of Veterans for Peace

Dr. Aron Bernstein of MIT / Council for a Livable World

Aron BernsteinIt is with great sadness that we report on the death of MIT Prof. Emeritus of Physics Aron Bernstein on January 14 at the age of 88, after a short battle with cancer. Aron was a nuclear physicist at MIT for 40 years. He worked closely with Mass. Peace Action in recent years, speaking frequently at our conferences. Throughout his career, Aron worked assiduously for nuclear arms control and disarmament. In 1969, he helped found the Union of Concerned Scientists. He was a longtime supporter and board member of Council for a Livable World, which works to elect candidates who are committed to addressing the existential threat of nuclear weapons.

Recently, Aron led the establishment of the Nuclear Weapons Education Project at MIT and was an active voice on the Editorial Board of the MIT Faculty Newsletter. The Education Project aims to make sure that younger generations are made aware of the threat that nuclear weapons pose to humankind. Aron recognized that, for those who grew up during the Cold War, the danger of nuclear weapons was all too real, but that younger people no longer recognize the ongoing threat unless they are exposed to the kind of information and analysis that he and other scientists could provide.

Since his retirement in 2001, he stepped up his educational and political work. In addition, he and his wife Susan Goldhor spent part of each year at their cabin in New Hampshire. Aron was an avid mountain hiker and urban bicyclist. He biked to MIT from his home in Cambridge every day, until an accident two years ago forced him to stop. His friend, MIT Prof. Jonathan King said, “Aron was a warm family man and a good friend, a mentor to many students, and a fighter for peace. He will be greatly missed.” 

(Parts of this memorial were taken from a piece by Robert P. Redwine published in the MIT Faculty Newsletter: )

Dr. Ed Furshpan of Harvard / Native American Education Project

Ed FurshpanWe are sad to acknowledge the death of Dr. Ed Furshpan, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard University, on November 18, 2019. Ed was the husband of founding member and longtime leader of Massachusetts Peace Action, Shelagh Foreman. He was a founder of the Neurobiology Department, one of the leading research groups in the field worldwide. His department reported: “Ed’s scientific studies, mostly carried out with his lifelong collaborator and fellow pioneer Dave Potter, were consistently marked by their originality, rigor, and conceptual advance.” They discovered excitatory and inhibitory electrical synapses. Both discoveries cut against the prevailing dogma that all synapses were chemical.

In addition to their many scientific contributions, their commitment to education and equal rights inspired their colleagues and students over many years. They established the “Ed Furshpan and David Potter Native American Education Program” for high school students from Fort Peck and Hopi nations and their teachers. Ed was also one of a small group of faculty who, spurred into action by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., began to investigate the woefully small number of students of color admitted to the Harvard Medical School. They launched an affirmative action effort at the school, which over the years blossomed into a successful program, although one which required ongoing nurturing and vigilance on their part.

In his later years, Ed was writing a book about the need to understand and overcome the impulse to dominate – a trait he described as wired into a part of the brain – if humanity were to survive and thrive. A colleague described Ed’s interest in this line of research as influenced by Shelagh’s commitment to cooperation and peace.

(Parts of this memorial were taken from a description on Harvard’s Neurobiology Department website: