Celebratio Mathematica

Georgia Benkart

Remembering Georgia Benkart

by Alejandro Adem, Tom Halverson, Arun Ram, and Efim Zelmanov

Georgia Benkart at the graduation of her PhD student, Dongho Moon, on May 15, 1998.

Geor­gia Ben­k­art passed away un­ex­pec­tedly in Madis­on, Wis­con­sin, on April 29, 2022. Geor­gia earned her BA from Ohio State Uni­versity and her PhD in 1974 from Yale Uni­versity un­der Nath­an Jac­ob­son. She was a pro­foundly in­flu­en­tial schol­ar and lead­er in the fields of Lie the­ory, rep­res­ent­a­tion the­ory, com­bin­at­or­ics, and non­com­mut­at­ive al­gebra. She spent her ca­reer at UW-Madis­on, where she was the second wo­man to join the de­part­ment and the second to earn ten­ure. At the time of Geor­gia’s re­tire­ment in 2006, she was the E. B. Van Vleck Pro­fess­or of Math­em­at­ics. Geor­gia is sur­vived by her sis­ter, Paula Ben­k­art, who also at­ten­ded Ohio State Uni­versity and earned a PhD in His­tory from Johns Hop­kins Uni­versity in 1975.

Geor­gia was an in­spir­ing teach­er, the ad­visor to 22 PhD stu­dents, and a ment­or to scores of math­em­aticians around the world. She pub­lished more than 130 art­icles and re­search mono­graphs and gave more than 350 in­vited talks, in­clud­ing plen­ary lec­tures at AMS meet­ings, the AWM No­eth­er Lec­ture at the Joint Math­em­at­ics Meet­ings, and the Emmy No­eth­er Lec­ture at the In­ter­na­tion­al Con­gress of Math­em­aticians. Her lec­tures were works of art. Without fail they were ac­cess­ible to non­ex­perts, told a com­pel­ling and cre­at­ive story, de­lighted her audi­ences with lit­er­ary al­lu­sions and puns, and in­vited every­one in­to the fun.

Geor­gia’s ser­vice to the math­em­at­ic­al pro­fes­sion is le­gendary. After re­tir­ing from teach­ing in 2006, she con­tin­ued an act­ive re­search pro­gram in which she pub­lished nearly 40 pa­pers. At the same time, she fo­cused her at­ten­tion on ser­vice to her pro­fes­sion­al so­ci­et­ies. She was pres­id­ent of the As­so­ci­ation for Wo­men in Math­em­at­ics and an as­so­ci­ate sec­ret­ary for the Amer­ic­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety. In fact, she was the lead or­gan­izer of the 2020, 2021 and 2022 Joint Math Meet­ings, the last of which took place on­line just three weeks be­fore her death.

However, Geor­gia’s most mean­ing­ful and en­dur­ing im­pact on our com­munity lies out­side of what is found in her im­press­ive CV. It is about the people whose lives she changed. She was a pi­on­eer in build­ing re­search col­lab­or­a­tions, start­ing when she worked with teams of gradu­ate stu­dents and con­tinu­ing with the many re­search net­works that she built among early-ca­reer wo­men math­em­aticians.

A re­cent art­icle in March 2022 No­tices, “Gems from the Work of Geor­gia Ben­k­art,” pro­files her math­em­at­ic­al work. We are enorm­ously pleased that she was able to see this be­fore her death. In this me­mori­am, we have asked sev­er­al of her col­leagues and col­lab­or­at­ors to de­scribe their ex­per­i­ences work­ing with her. In our opin­ion, this is the best way to know our friend, Geor­gia Ben­k­art.

To read the full art­icle, click on the link to the PDF at the top right corner of this page.