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The wife of OceanGate's CEO is descended from a famous couple who died on the Titanic

Ida and Isidor Straus died after she gave up her spot in a lifeboat to stay with him on the sinking Titanic in 1912. Their great-great-granddaughter Wendy Rush is married to Stockton Rush, the founder of OceanGate and pilot of its missing submersible.
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Ida and Isidor Straus died after she gave up her spot in a lifeboat to stay with him on the sinking Titanic in 1912. Their great-great-granddaughter Wendy Rush is married to Stockton Rush, the founder of OceanGate and pilot of its missing submersible.

The OceanGate executive who was piloting the submersible on its fateful Sunday dive is married to the descendent of a couple who died in the very shipwreck his expedition aimed to see.

OceanGate founder and CEO Stockton Rush is married to Wendy Rush, the great-great-granddaughter of Isidor and Ida Straus, who chose to remain onboard the sinking Titanic together so that others could escape to safety in their place.

They were the real-life inspiration behind the heartbreaking scene in James Cameron's movie in which an elderly couple embraces in bed as water rushes into their room.

Rush is OceanGate's communications director and has been involved with its Titanic expeditions since they began in 2021, according to her LinkedIn page. She is also a direct descendant of Minnie Weil, one of the Straus' seven children.

The connection was first reported by the New York Times and confirmed through genealogical records, as well as by the Straus Historical Society — an educational nonprofit — in an email to NPR on Thursday.

Minnie married Richard Weil, Sr., and they had a son, Richard Jr. His son, Richard Weil III, is Rush's father. Rush's late grandfather was mentioned in her 1986 New York Times wedding announcement.

The Straus Historical Society tweeted a link to the Times' story on Wednesday night, more than three days into the search for the submersible and mere hours before it was due to run out of oxygen.

"Our thoughts are with the loved ones of those aboard the lost submersible," it wrote. "We hold continued hope that the crewmembers will be rescued."

Their love story inspired a gut-wrenching movie moment

Isidor Straus was a businessman and politician who, at the time of his death at age 67, co-owned Macy's department store with his brother and had at one point represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He and Ida met in New York City in their 20s, falling and remaining very much in love, their great-grandson Paul Kurzman told Country Living in 2017. The two were often spotted holding hands, hugging and kissing; public displays of affection that he says were rare for people of their status at the time.

"One time they were even caught 'necking!' And that behavior lasted well into their later years," Kurzman said. "They had something truly special and it's something us progeny treasure a great deal."

The couple were traveling back from a winter in Europe aboard the Titanic when tragedy struck on the night of April 14, 1912. As the ship began sinking, women and children were ushered into lifeboats.

Ida, 63, was given a seat, and expected Isidor to follow. The officer in charge of that particular lifeboat recognized him and was willing to let him on board, Kurzman told TODAY in 2017.

"And, my great-grandfather said, 'No. Until I see that every woman and child on board this ship is in a lifeboat, I will not enter into a lifeboat myself,'" said Kurzman, who grew up hearing the story from his grandmother, the Straus' oldest daughter Sara.

Ida climbed back out of the lifeboat, took off her full-length mink coat ("I won't have any further need") and gave it to her maid, who was eventually rescued. (The maid later tried to return the coat to Straus' children, but they refused.)

She chose to stay with her husband, a moment depicted decades later in a deleted scene from the movie.

"She basically said, 'We have lived our whole life together and if you are going to remain on the boat and to die as the boat sinks, I will remain on the boat with you. We will not leave one another after our long and wonderful marriage together," Kurzman said.

That was the last time they were seen alive, he said: A "great wave" came over the port side of the ship and swept them both into the sea.

Their memorial service at Carnegie Hall was so well-attended that all of the mourners couldn't fit inside, the New York Times reported in May 1912.

Isidor's body — including a locket with photographs of his children — was recovered by a ship weeks after the tragedy, though Ida's never was. Their family collected water from the North Atlantic in an urn and laid the two to rest in a mausoleum in New York.

There, a cenotaph bears a quote from Song of Solomon (8:7): "Many waters cannot quench love — neither can the floods drown it."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: June 22, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story misspelled Isidor Straus' first name in some instances.
Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.

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