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Remembering Mort Winston ’70

On March 31, The College of New Jersey held a memorial service and remembrance to honor the life and contributions of Mort Winston ’70. It was an impressive, moving, and well-attended tribute. The speakers who worked with Mort for decades at Amnesty International and other human-rights organizations related the major role he played internally while being a formidable representative of the human-rights community in confronting multinational corporations and repressive governments. 

A former student told us how Mort changed her life. When she was struggling to complete assignments despite apparent understanding of the material, he invited her to meet with him. He learned how this young woman of color was poor, had no family—she was a ward of the state—and faced innumerable obstacles in her daily existence. He encouraged her, gave her strategies for coping and performing, and mentored her. She spoke to us now as a faculty member in the philosophy department of TCNJ.

As the tributes to Mort’s accomplishments as a teacher and human-rights activist came to a close, it was my turn to remind the assemblage that “believe it or not, once upon a time Mort was a college freshman ...  and my Swarthmore roommate.”


Mort Winston’s TCNJ family, his colleagues and students, met him as an intellectually imposing philosopher, educator, and human-rights activist. Believe it or not, once upon a time Mort was a college freshman. Let me paint the picture for you.

August 1966, Swarthmore College, outside Philadelphia. Mort was my assigned freshman-year roommate. I had no idea what to expect. Mort was just a picture and name in the freshman facebook—that’s “facebook” with a small “f.” In those days, there was no email or social media for finding out about, or instantaneously communicating with, future roommates.

I found my way to our dormitory, and walked into the suite where we would be sharing a small bedroom with bunkbeds. Mort was already there. He was unpacking philosophy books! When they were shelved, next to his pipe and tobacco pouch, Mort pulled out a miniature sculpture. It was an ape in the pose of Rodin’s The Thinker, sitting on a stack of volumes marked “Darwin” and contemplating a human skull.

I was intimidated. As we got to know each other, I was surprised to learn that Mort’s parents were not college professors. Rather, like me, he had Jewish parents who had not even had the opportunity to go to college. Just before Thanksgiving, we managed to get a bottle of Scotch and shared an experience that I will leave to your imagination, except to say that each of us went home the next morning with a deadly hangover. Returning from the short holiday, we found that the College had erected the “Think Board,” a large bulletin board for students to tack up their ideas. Our idea was to go to a local junk yard and pick up a necessary accessory. Soon thereafter, Mort’s picture appeared in the student newspaper contemplating the Think Board while comfortably seated on our strategically placed “Think Bowl.” Our friendship also was fostered by our shared love of tennis. The College courts were right outside our window. The pop of the tennis balls was a sirenlike call for us to walk a few steps outside and play.

The freshman-year matchup was chance, but we chose to be roommates our sophomore year, moving to a more bohemian dormitory a half-mile from the main campus. We kept in touch for 50 years. I admired Mort’s steadfast commitment to his family, philosophy, teaching, and international human rights. He was proud of his contribution to expanding Trenton State from an excellent teacher’s college (which I knew about from my New Jersey high school experience) to an excellent full-scale liberal arts college.

When my twin daughters were in high school, Mort let me know that TCNJ was enrolling more out-of-state students—even New Yorkers! As a result, my daughter, Jackie, will be graduating from TCNJ in May. Mort, Jackie, and I had dinner when she visited on accepted students’ day four years ago. I was looking forward to completing the story arc of Mort, Jackie, me, and TCNJ at the commencement. I am sad my family will not have the opportunity to thank Mort in person for his contributions to TCNJ and for recommending it to us as a college choice.


+LEARN MORE about the The College of New Jersey's Morton Winston Scholarship for Study Abroad

+READ The College of New Jersey's remembrance