Georgia Benkart Remembrances

Michael Lau
Université Laval
PhD student

I am heartbroken to learn the news of Georgia’s passing. I have known her for over twenty years as my teacher, mentor, and friend, and it is difficult to imagine no longer being able to count on her wisdom, warm smile, and delightful laugh. She had an uncanny ability to find and solve innocent-looking problems of fundamental importance, and her judgement—mathematical, professional, and personal—was impeccable. We will all miss her dearly.

Paul Terwilliger
Math Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Colleague

I have known Georgia Benkart ever since I came to the department in 1985. Over the years, I saw Georgia deal with problems large and small.
And somehow, once Georgia got involved, the problem was solved in less time than expected.

To be sure, Georgia was profoundly competent and well organized. But that description alone does not do her justice.

For Georgia, a project was not just about getting it right; it was also about making it beautiful. I have read many of Georgia’s mathematical papers. Each paper was a polished gem, that would make any lawyer or poet proud. I attended many of Georgia’s lectures at conferences and seminars. Each lecture was a work of art, that engaged the audience from beginning to end. I attended many a faculty meeting during which Georgia got up to speak. Invariably, what she said was so well polished and delivered, that it reminded me of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.

Tom Halverson
Macalester College
Friend, PhD Student, Collaborator

Georgia was my teacher, mentor, PhD advisor, collaborator, and friend, and I have no doubt that I would not be where I am without her help, encouragement, and inspiration.

Georgia cared deeply about her teaching. Whether it be calculus or linear algebra or a graduate course in affine Lie algebras, each class was carefully crafted, beautifully delivered, and full of puns and wit.

After her retirement from teaching in 2007, Georgia and I began a renewed collaboration. Among my favorite professional moments were visits to see her and her sister Paula in Madison for mathematics and fun. We told stories, did math, ate excellent food from their kitchen, and shared a beer or two.

She had an incredible wit. This included many (painfully enjoyable) puns involving the names Schur and Lie. She creatively gave her plenary talk on Schur-Weyl duality the title, “A Tale of Two Groups,” and referenced Dickens throughout. We organized a special session on walks on graphs which she had the brilliant idea to name, “Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk.”

Georgia’s mentorship extended way beyond those who were her official students. She noticed people in need of help making their way through the profession and provided quiet yet powerful guidance. She inspired an entire generation of mathematicians, leading by example and working with humility, kindness, care, joy, and humanity.

Emilie Wiesner
Ithaca College
on my dissertation committee

Although I knew Georgia while I was a graduate student at Wisconsin, I came to appreciate her kindness and her mathematical clarity much more as I periodically saw her throughout the past 17 years. She always greeted me with warmth, asking after the details of my career and my family; and she offered her advice and support whenever I asked or needed it. Her talks were an ongoing delight and continued to offer me new insights.

Alberto Elduque
University of Zaragoza (Spain)
Friend and collaborator

I first met Georgia Benkart when I was a first year graduate student, in my very first mathematical meeting, near Boston, in 1983, and I vividly remember how much impressed I was after her beautiful talk, so carefully prepared, with the right pace, some puns here and there, deep mathematics, … I was absolutely fascinated. After that, we met several times in workshops, or in short visits either in Zaragoza or in Madison. Years later, I spent a sabbatical leave in Madison. I went there with my family, and we all benefited from her kindness and attention to the details. She had many students and visitors at the time, but she was able to have time for all of us! One thing I remember deeply is her knack for asking the right questions, mathematical or otherwise. We joked that she had had the privilege of collaborating with Leduc (a former student of hers) and with myself: Elduque, as both names mean “the Duke”, in French and Spanish, respectively. That was an unforgettable year. My daughter, Eva, was 10 years old by the time. More recently, she went back to Wisconsin as a math graduate student. The last time I met Georgia in person was for Eva’s doctoral thesis defense. And the last time I saw her by zoom was on the occasion of my 60th birthday, one and a half years ago, with many other friends and colleagues who couldn’t meet in person because of the pandemic. She showed some old pictures of us, going back almost 40 years. It is painful to think that Georgia is gone, but we feel immensely fortunate to have shared so many moments. We will miss her. We will remember her.

Van C. Nguyen
U.S. Naval Academy
Collaborator

I just talked to Georgia a few days ago in our weekly meetings and it was heart broken to think she is no longer with us. Georgia has been an invaluable mentor and inspiration in my life. I first heard her 2014 Noether Lecture when I was a graduate student. Her talk was beautifully written and delivered. She was calm, clear, confident, and absolutely brilliant while being humble, and I thought to myself, “I want to be like her when I grow up!” I had a chance of getting to know Georgia more through the Women in Noncommutative Algebra and Representation Theory (WINART) workshops and we have been meeting weekly since mid 2018. I truly enjoyed my years of knowing and working with Georgia, the math we have done and the times when we took the train to York for sightseeing or when we hung out in Berkeley or Madison. Ingenious, competent, mathematically talented, detail oriented, positive, kind, loving, warm, patient, supportive, genuine, humble, witty sense of humor,… those are not enough to describe Georgia. She was truly a remarkable person, both personally and mathematically. I am so glad our lives have crossed and I have learned so much from her. “Adios!” – as she always said at the end of our Zoom meetings with a big smile on her face. We will miss her dearly.

Jeganathan Sriskandarajah
Madison College, 2000-2013, UW-Richland (1985-2000)
Friend

I have known Professor Georgia Benkart, ever since I came to the department of mathematics, Madison College in 2000. She was always kind enough to accept our invitations to give presentations to our math club. Her talks were extremely well prepared and our faculty, students and the campus community enjoyed them very much. As the chair of the MAA(WI), I had the opportunity to interview her in 2005 and this included below. She very much enjoyed teaching, research and her active participation in several math organizations. I found her as a kind and caring person. We will miss her very much!

https://sections.maa.org/wisconsin/kywm/Benkart.pdf

Baha Balantekin
UW-Madison
Colleague

I met Georgia soon after I arrived in Madison more than 35 years ago. Since we were both interested in Lia algebras, especially graded Lie algebras, we had much overlap. With mathematical vigor on her side and -what she and other mathematicians would consider physics driven non-rigorous ideas- on my side. I will miss her wit and running into Georgia and her sister Paula every Saturday at the farmer’s market.

Chih-wen Weng
NYCU
A student

She is a gentle instructor with self-confidence. I enjoyed sitting in her class learning Math as well as English speaking. I still remember she said while thinking with naughty “eether orrrr eyether…….”

Gloria Mari Beffa and Sigurd Angenent
UW-Madison
Colleague, friend, neighbor

Our memories of Georgia go back 30 years to when we arrived in Madison. She was at home when we celebrated our kids’ births, played tennis together, was there for multiple dinners and laughter, and was there again when our kids graduated. She was someone we always loved to talk with about anything, she was happy to have lunch to discuss some aspect or another of Lie algebras that was confusing, and we had multiple e-mail exchanges about math. We talked about the AMS and administration, she was always willing to share her wisdom with us. And we know that she did that with a countless number of people, having both personal and professional connections at the same time, always being there to help and at the same time always ready to enjoy and have some fun. It is disorienting to think she will not be around any longer, but she was typically happy and terribly busy to the end, as it should be.

Shamgar Gurevich
UW – Madison
Colleague

Georgia was a marvelous person, her smile and sympathy in every discussion I had with her, will be missed a lot.

תהא נפשה צרורה בצרור החיים (t’hay nafshah tzrurah b’tzror hachaim), “May her soul be bound up in the bond of life.”

Shamgar

Steve Kass
Drew University
Ph.D. student

I am so sad to hear of Georgia’s passing. I came to Madison in 1977 undecided about what to specialize in, but I quickly gravitated to algebra after inspiring courses from Marty Isaacs, Don Passman, and especially Georgia, whose Lie Algebras course I took around 1979 or 1980. I was honored when she agreed to be my advisor; she was a brilliant, kind, patient, and supportive mentor.

My memories from so long ago are fading, but a few snapshots have stayed with me. The day she came to class and wrote on the board “I have laryngitis,” and then proceeded to give yet another beautiful (and silent) lecture. Dinner at her and Paula’s home, and the stories she told that night, including one about Hans Zassenhaus and an artichoke. Her office, full of stapled construction-paper polyhedra made by her math education students and piled with pastel handouts-become-scrap-paper, before recycling was a thing. And her comments on my thesis draft: that I could write “zeros” or “zeroes,” and I could pick one or the other but not both; and that I shouldn’t begin a sentence with “So,” because Marshall (Osborn) didn’t like it.

Georgia always had a sparkle in her eye, and she had an infectious sense of wonder about everything, mathematical and otherwise. I last saw Georgia after her brilliant Noether lecture at the Joint Meetings in 2014. I hadn’t seen her for perhaps 20 years, but she greeted me warmly and familiarly, with that classic sparkle of the eye.

Today was my last Abstract Algebra lecture of the semester, and instead of reviewing for the final exam, I told my students about Georgia and introduced them to Lie Algebras. Preparing my notes reminded me of what a beautiful subject it was, and I hope my students appreciated the mathematics and the memories. It is hard to believe Georgia is gone.

Matt Ondrus
Weber State University
PhD Student

I am incredibly lucky to have known Georgia as my teacher, advisor, collaborator, and friend. It is nearly impossible to describe how important she has been to me or to imagine how differently things may have turned out for me had I not known her. Georgia was kind, brilliant, patient, generous, and extremely funny, and I wish I could still remember all of the many times she exhibited those traits. She was also remarkably thorough. I was lucky enough to have collaborated with Georgia several times, and I can vividly recall the first time I wrote a paper with her. At a certain point, we had proved some nice theorems and had written rigorous proofs of those theorems. I thought we were close to being able to submit our paper. I could not have been more wrong. We subsequently engaged in a process of proofreading that was unlike anything I had ever done, and after many many many more drafts, we had a paper of which I am still proud. I like to imagine that if Georgia were to read this rememberance, she would suggest a few small wording changes that would greatly improve it. I miss her very much.

Kathryn Leonard
AWM President

(from an email to AWM members)

With great sorrow, we share with you news of the loss of Georgia Benkart. Georgia was AWM President from 2009-2011 and supported AWM throughout her life, most recently as part of AWM’s 50th Anniversary Committee and as a contributor to the AWM-Springer volume, Fifty Years of Women in Mathematics.

During Georgia’s term as President, she helped to plan AWM’s 40th anniversary celebration which launched the AWM Research Symposia, fought successfully against a decision to remove AWM prizes from the Joint Mathematics Meetings prize session, and brought AWM into the broader community though participation in the USA Science and Engineering Festival and the National Mathematics Festival. Georgia was also an extraordinary researcher. Her work is beautifully summarized in the March 2022 Notices of the AMS article, Gems of the Work of Georgia Benkart, by Tom Halverson and Arum Ram.

Georgia was the first AWM President I met. While she was president, we were co-panelists for a workshop for women graduate students hosted by the Institute for Mathematics and Applications. I was fairly new in a tenure-track position at a public comprehensive institution, and assumed I would not be of interest to a well-known mathematician at a top-ranked R1 institution. I can’t say for sure that I was of interest, but I can say she made me feel that way. Georgia was immediately warm, welcoming, and encouraging, introducing me to other people at the workshop. Over the years, I have come to know that warmth is a defining quality in her interactions with others.

The last time I saw Georgia was a few short weeks ago at JMM 2022. I will miss her, but I am also incredibly grateful to have known her.

Dongho Moon
Sejong University
Ph.D student

The news that Georgia passed away shocked me for a while and it made me greatly depressed during the last several days. She was gentle but I knew she was strong too. I never imagined we would lose her early but I was wrong. I was lucky that I had her as my ph.d advisor. She was always gentle and patient while advising me. The six years of my life in Madison was full of blessings thanks to her. I will never forget the moments of us having a picnic together with Georgia, along with my two daughters. Since finishing my degrees, I have visited Madison many times. One day I told Georgia that Madison is the most beautiful city, and I enjoy visiting Madison from time to time. But what I never told her was that the most pleasant thing about the city was meeting her. People will always remember her gentle and kind lectures forever. Her talks were always graceful and full of wit and humor. She was kind to everyone, even to young people. She was a great mathematician, and she was an even greater person. It is still hard to believe that I am not able to see her any more. It makes my heart broken. Visiting Madison again will sadden me, as it will remind me of all the memories with Georgia.

Willy Hereman and Reinhilde Seutin
Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, Colorado School of Mines
former colleague and friend

Reinhilde and I are very saddened to learn the news of Georgia’s sudden passing. My memories go back to 1986 when I joined UW-Madison as a Van Vleck visiting assistant professor. Georgia was a mentor-par-excellence for young faculty members like me. She was generous with advice, told witty anecdotes to brighten the day, and gave a pat on the shoulder when needed. She did wonderous work — often behind the scene — to help advance the careers of mathematicians, female and male alike. I will always remember Georgia with a sparkle in her eyes, an infectious smile, a warm and compassionate heart, and a great sense of humor. The mathematically brilliant Georgia was as humble as one can be. We are blessed to have known Georgia as an inspirational colleague, a generous mentor, and dear friend. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to her sister Paula, members of the Benkart family, and to all of you who had the privilege to interact with Georgia. She will be deeply missed!

Marty Isaacs
UW-Madison
Friend, colleague and collaborator

Shortly after Georgia Benkart arrived at the UW, she gave a graduate course in Lie algebras. I attended Georgia’s lectures in this course, and I was doubly impressed.

First, although I had seen Lie algebras previously, I not realized how beautiful that subject could be until Georgia made it come alive in her course. In fact, I was nearly seduced by Georgia’s lectures into abandoning my first mathematical love—group theory—and I began thinking about problems in Lie algebras. Indeed, I wrote and published two papers (jointly with Georgia and our colleague, J. Marshall Osborn) on simple Lie algebras in prime characteristic, and a further paper jointly with Georgia.

Another impressive aspect of Georgia’s course was her beautiful lectures. These were carefully prepared and extremely well presented, and even her blackboard use was exceptionally fine, with beautiful handwriting and excellent organization.

I also got to know Georgia very well in a non-mathematical context. She lived for a while in an apartment building adjacent to where I lived, and since I had a very convenient campus parking space, we agreed that she would come to the math department each morning in my car. Because of this daily contact, our friendship developed nicely. I enjoyed those commutes with Georgia, and I was sad when she moved out of my neighborhood, and thus ended our morning co-commutes.

Although I have not really seen much of Georgia since we both retired from the UW, her untimely death produces in me an emotion of sadness that is akin to, but of course much stronger than, the feeling I had when she stopped riding in to campus with me every morning.

Not only will I miss Georgia, but also, I expect that she will be missed by her other collaborators and by her students, and indeed, by everyone who had any substantial contact with her.

Jae-Ho Lee
University of North Florida
She was my dissertation committee member.

When I was a UW grad student, I asked her several requests, such as to be my dissertation committee member and to write a letter of recommendation. Every time I do, I remember that she was very willing to give me permission. She listened to my requests as kind as she was my grandma. She also introduced me to her co-workers whenever I met her at Joint Mathematics Meetings. I vividly remember that she gave me valuable comments when I gave a talk at the combinatorics seminar at Van Vleck. I will never forget her kind smile, warm conversation, and beautiful math lectures.

Mee Seong Im
United States Naval Academy
Mathematics colleague

I met Georgia Benkart many times in my academic career. She’s always so polite and kind, asking me about my life and the sort of research problems that I have been thinking about. She was always a pleasant person to talk to and to be around. Her presence will be greatly missed.

Samuel Lopes
University of Porto (Portugal)
student, friend, collaborator

Subtle, sharp and virtuous in all of her many facets and paths; kind, attentive, inclusive and open; playfulLie minded, invariantly focused and organized; obsessed with mathematics and its beauty; did I say kind? These all come to mind when I think of Georgia and I can envision no better witnesses of human intelligence. Georgia was first my teacher, then my mentor, my mathematical mother, my friend and my collaborator. I am struck with sadness as all whose paths she blessed with her presence are bound to be. It’s a sadness for having been so lucky! My thoughts go to her sister, my mathematical siblings, her collaborators and friends.

Edward Dunne
American Mathematical Society / Math Reviews
Friend

I met Georgia 25 years ago when I started working in the AMS book program and she was on the editorial committee for the Mathematical Surveys and Monographs series. She was great on the committee, and helped move discussions and projects along. At some point in this period, she and I were at the same conference, and Georgia sought me out to introduce herself in person and to chat. She was kind and intelligent in equal measure. Meeting up with Georgia at conferences, especially AMS Sectional Meetings, became a regular thing for me. Once she became Associate Secretary for the Central Section, Georgia started attending lots of AMS Meetings! Even though she was running these meetings, she always had time for people. Indeed, Georgia and I had many a lunch or dinner at the sectional meetings. Somehow, she always seemed to have insider information about restaurants no matter where we were. Our conversations would range from friendly chats to substantial discussions related to books and publishing and the AMS. The friendly parts were marked not just by what Georgia said, but how she listened. For work and publishing, Georgia provided remarkable help in suggesting potential authors to contact, possible referees for projects, and direct advice about book manuscripts. When I moved to Mathematical Reviews, I still saw Georgia at meetings, and we still found time for coffee/tea or lunch. By odd coincidence, just a few weeks ago, I wrote to Georgia for advice on a thorny issue regarding a review we had. She wrote back right away with some advice and some names of some experts to consult. We also commiserated (via email) that we had not be able to meet in person at JMM 2022. I am saddened by Georgia’s passing. Spending time with her was both pleasant and productive. Now that she is gone, I know that it is the pleasant, personal side of our meetings that I will miss.

Yuri Bahturin
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Friend, colleague

I am saddened by the untimely passing of Georgia Benkart. We became friends and colleagues when I first visited Madison in 1994 as a Fulbright Fellow. Since then we met on many occasions in many places. I am deeply indebted to Georgia for supporting Atlantic Algebra Centre (AAC) in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, of which I was the organizer and director. Georgia was a co-organizer and a plenary speaker of the Workshop “Locally Finite Lie algebras” at the Banff International Research Station in 2003, and gave excellent lectures to the participants of the workshops held by AAC at Bonne Bay Marine Station of Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2010 and 2012. Her lectures were amazing: she could talk about difficult subjects in a playful manner, making really hard stuff accessible to wide audiences. She was a very warm and kind person. We will miss her very much!

Oliver Eng
University of Wisconsin Madison
Former Ph.D. Student

I am grateful for my time spent at Van Vleck and with Georgia as my advisor in particular. She was always thoughtful and kind, encouraging me throughout my life, even as my career veered away from mathematics proper. She visited me when I took a break from things to work at a local grocery, and as a Madisonian, friends would report Georgia sightings, like when she bought apples from a friend who worked at the Hilldale farmers’ market. I recall fondly the times I dined with her at her home and her beloved Sa Bai Thong on University Avenue. She will be missed, and I like to imagine a mathematical heaven with all the structures to keep her spirit in infinitely fond pursuit.

Maria Cristina Mariani
Chair, Department of Mathematical Sciences, The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP)
I met Dr. Georgia Benkart when she visited UTEP

I met Dr. Georgia Benkart when she visited UTEP on February 28, 2019, in preparation for the AMS Sectional Meeting that was going to be host in El Paso Texas in 2020. We visited several places and two restaurants: Mi Piaci for lunch and Cattleman steak house in Fabens (a place that she liked very much) for dinner. I was very impressed by her kindness, energy, and dedication to her work; from then we remained in touch. My colleagues at UTEP and I had the privilege to meet a brilliant mathematician that was also a wonderful human being. She will be greatly missed.