Jilliann Zavala, a forensic psychologist who grew up in Albany, recalled how she first met Evelyn Einstein, a close family friend throughout her life.
Einstein passed away one month ago, on April 13, in her Pierce Street condominium in Albany.
Einstein was the adopted daughter of Hans Albert Einstein and granddaughter of Albert Einstein. She spoke four or five languages and held a master’s degree in medieval history, but she struggled to pay for proper care toward the end of her life, according to an obituary in The New York Times last month.
“My father was her partner. In 1973, she became an animal control officer; they rode together,” said Zavala. “After my parents divorced, we would see her a lot. She was a friend of my father’s. She knew my dad almost 40 years.”
Whenever Zavala visited Einstein’s apartment, “she always had a lot of classical music playing. She loved the Greek Theater.” They would talk about what was going on at Cal. According to Zavala, Einstein was “very, very Berkeley.”
“In 1989 I moved to Albany to go to high school. [Einstein] moved from Berkeley to Albany in 1989 or 1990. I remember helping her move.”
In conversation with Zavala, Einstein would recall the “great times” she had with her grandfather, Albert Einstein. “He would take all the time he could and come to California to see them,” Zavala said. “She really loved her grandfather; he was very good to her.”
Einstein’s friend of 10 years, Allen P. Wilkinson, with whom she was writing her memoirs, concurs. “To her, he wasn’t the scientific genius; he was 'Grandpa.'”
“I lived in Los Angeles and [now] Orange County, but I would go up to Alameda County a couple of times a year and go out to lunch with her,” said Wilkinson. “Every Wednesday and Saturday at 1 o’clock I would call Evelyn and we would talk for two or three hours… on a variety of subjects.”
“Talking with her was the highlight of my week,” he added.
“We had just started [her memoir] a month or two before she died. There was so much there,” said Wilkinson. “Most of the knowledge was in her mind, but she didn’t write it down or tape it or anything.”
Einstein apparently loved Star Trek, though Zavala, who jokingly calls Star Trek “the Dark Side,” hates to admit it. Einstein collected Star Trek figures and displayed a model of the Starship Enterprise in her home. Wilkinson said Einstein always wore her Star Trek pin, like those worn by the original television show cast.
When impaired mobility forced Einstein to leave animal control in the mid-1970s, she took up cult deprogramming, according to Zavala. She worked in cult deprogramming for 15 to 20 years, said Wilkinson.
“I would ask her how she would get someone out of the Moonies, and she would say, ‘Get them to speak.’ It was damned hard to get them talking, because they were under the Moonies’ influence,” said Wilkinson. “She would get them to talk about baseball, get their mind off the cult.”
From her mid-30s, Einstein was plagued by ill health, suffering from lung problems, heart problems and diabetes. She “was mostly wheelchair-bound in the end,” said Zavala.
Over time, friends said, Einstein’s poor health made caring for herself nearly impossible.
According to Wilkinson, “in the last few months she would say, ‘Allen, it takes me two hours to make a peanut butter sandwich. It wears me out to go from the bedroom to the kitchen, and it wears me out to make the sandwich.’ We were trying to get her into a nursing home or assisted living situation, but she was afraid she couldn’t afford it.”
According to The New York Times, Einstein took issue with Hebrew University in Jerusalem for making millions off bobblehead dolls featuring her grandfather’s visage. She wanted some portion to help pay for moving into an assisted living facility, the Times reported.
About that suit Zavala said, “Yeah, she could have used more help, a nurse once a day, but she wasn’t greedy. It was a lot more about respect for him, for her father, for the family. She didn’t like the Einstein bobbleheads.”
But now, after Einstein’s death, a different lawsuit threatens to thwart her last wishes. According to Wilkinson, a relative of Einstein's wants to challenge her will because it left him and his siblings out.
“We were in the process of getting her cremated, and now [this relative] is contesting everything,” Wilkinson said. “Her body lies in repose at [in El Cerrito]. Her wish was to be cremated and have her ashes scattered at the Berkeley marina, where she used to work as a safety officer.”
Though she was adopted as a baby, some say Einstein may actually have been related by blood to Albert.
“There is a question about her heritage. She was adopted,” said Wilkinson. “The question is, maybe she was Albert’s lovechild” with a dancer.
“Hans Albert and Frieda [Albert’s son and daughter-in-law] were living in South Carolina. Albert directed, not asked, them to go to Chicago and adopt her,” said Wilkinson. “Hans was earning a meager living at the time and didn’t need another mouth to feed.”
Asked whether she was curious about her parentage, Wilkinson said, “Evelyn’s position was, ‘I was raised as an Einstein; I was treated by the family as an Einstein. For all intents and purposes, I am an Einstein.’”
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