YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (MyValleyTributes) – Mathematician Georgia Benkart was stunned to learn on Wednesday, April 27, that the pain and fatigue she had been fighting through to fulfill her professional commitments came from an illness that was about to take her life. It did so two days later, Friday, April 29.
A child of the “baby boom,” Georgia was born in Youngstown, Ohio, to Florence K. Benkart, who had just retired from a 20-year teaching career on the city’s ethnically rich south side and George Benkart, home from his service in the Army Corps of Engineers.
Georgia and her sister, Paula, attended Liberty Schools, one of the few systems hiring married women as teachers when their mother was ready to resume the vocation she would pass on to her daughters. Participating in a summer program for high school students at Hiram College awakened Georgia’s self-confidence in her intellectual abilities. Valedictorian of her class at Liberty, Georgia entered Ohio State as a Freshman Honors Scholar and, through its excellent math Honors Program, graduated summa cum laude and with distinction in mathematics. Her senior thesis, which she wrote in her junior year, was published, but from force of habit, the journal listed its author’s name as “George.” Georgia earned her master’s and Ph.D. at Yale as both a National Science Foundation and Woodrow Wilson Fellow. Her dissertation director was the renowned algebraist Nathan Jacobson, who was also an authority on the work of German refugee mathematician Emmy Noether. Years later, Georgia shared in Jacobson’s efforts to bring Soviet émigré mathematicians into the U.S. mathematical community.
Georgia spent her entire career at the University of Wisconsin and embraced the culture of Madison. Supported by her male fellow algebraists and by Mary Ellen Rudin, whose own tenure previously had been delayed because her husband was on the faculty, Georgia was granted tenure at a time when under three percent of the tenured math professors at comparable universities were women. She soon convinced her widowed mother and her sister to move to Madison.
At the University of Wisconsin, Georgia supervised the dissertations of 21 doctoral graduates, received the Wisconsin Alumni Association award for undergraduate teaching, and held an E.B. Van Vleck professorship before retiring to focus, as professor emerita, on improving opportunities in mathematics for members of historically underrepresented groups. She then became president of the Association for Women in Mathematics; an associate secretary of the American Mathematical Society, organizing mathematical conferences and their scientific programs; and a mentor to multiple research groups of early-career mathematicians. She also served on the advisory or trustee boards of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (Berkeley), American Institute of Mathematics (San Jose) and Ohio State Mathematics Department.
Surviving Georgia are her sister; her students and colleagues; members of three on-going research groups and her cousins from the James, Renner and Goldcamp branches of her family, with whom she remained close.
Georgia was usually quiet and reserved until she stepped to a podium with something significant to convey to a large audience, as in the Emmy Noether lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians or any of the over 350 other lectures she was invited to present during her career. She would be embarrassed to find herself eulogized in an obituary.
Please direct any material tributes you wish to make to one of the universities or organizations mentioned above or to the Tom James Memorial BDI Engineering Technology Scholarship, Youngstown State University Foundation, 655 Wick Avenue, Youngstown, OH 44502.
Arrangements have been entrusted to the Edward J. Fox & Sons Funeral Home, 4700 Market Street, Boardman, OH 44512.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Georgia Bankart, please visit our floral store.
A television tribute will air Thursday, May 5 at the following approximate times: 6:43 a.m. on WYTV, 9:32 a.m. on WKBN, 10:58 a.m. on FOX and 8:12 p.m. on MyYTV.