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Georgia M. Shambes

February 13, 1932 — April 20, 2024


              Georgia M. Shambes, a long-time resident of Madison and professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin, passed away on April 20, 2024, at the age of 92.  Georgia was born in Flint, Michigan, where she was raised and attended Central High, graduating in 1950.  But while the school year was spent in Flint, she, along with her four sisters and mother, would relocate each summer to a Chautauqua community on the shores of Lake Michigan, called Bay View.  It is here where she learned to play the piano and organ (which she would later play at the Greek Orthodox Church in Flint) and where she developed her lifelong passion for sailing and classical music.

               Following high school graduation, Georgia enrolled into what was then a brand new 5-year program at the University of Michigan, earning a BS in Physical Education in l954 and a Certificate in Physical Therapy in 1955.   Her first job was treating polio patients at the University’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.  She then moved to Northampton, Massachusetts, where she earned an MS in Physical Education  and Therapeutics from Smith College in 1958.  She remained on the faculty to teach courses in physical therapy and movement.   She left Smith in 1963, moving to Madison to begin her PhD program at the University.  She became a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy in 1968 after receiving her PhD in physical education and anatomy.  During her 20 plus years in this Department she played an important leadership role, by helping to develop the graduate program in therapeutic science and by serving as coordinator of the Physical Therapy program.   She published  more than 30 refereed, data-based articles analyzing the development, regulation and control of postural and volitional movements.

              Georgia’s research interests, however, were not limited to physical therapy.  After conducting so many studies on movement and posture she now wanted a better understanding of the neuromechanisms of motor function. She therefore began postdoctoral training at the University in neurophysiology in 1975 and a few years later became a member of that department’s faculty.  Her research focused on a part of the brain known as the cerebellum, and it led to a new understanding of how the brain processes sensory information from the skin, muscles, tendons, and joints.  Her work was widely published and  was frequently cited in scientific literature all over the world.

              While Georgia remained true to her undergraduate institution, and rarely missed a Michigan football or basketball game, she was forever grateful to the University of Wisconsin for having taught her the necessary techniques for launching a new line of research and for supporting that research.  Georgia was recognized nationally as an expert in neurophysiology and physical therapy and served as a consulting editor for several scholarly journals, including Brain, Behavior and Evolution, the Research Quarterly, and Physical and Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics.  She retired from the University in 1992.

Despite Georgia’s many significant contributions to both science and education, she will probably be best remembered by her friends, students and family for her puckish humor and athleticism.  When she graduated from high school she, in addition to various honors, was voted the “wittiest” by her class.  Her college students kept a daily meter, like that used by American Idol, on which they scored her performance for that day’s class. And she would delight the neighborhood children by blowing floating kisses that  they had to try and catch, or by arriving at the annual block picnics on a borrowed tricycle, taking drinks from her purple “sippy” cup.   She loved dressing up for Halloween and had all the dogs in the neighborhood trained to the sound of her car so that they would run up for treats.  Georgia was an accomplished tennis player and sailor,  regularly crewing for the E scow sailing races held on Lake Mendota.  She biked to work at the university, regardless of the season, until the day she retired.  Indeed, many of her neighbors thought that she had a daughter living with her who did the biking and were always surprised when they learned that mother and daughter were one and the same. It helped that her hair never changed color. She was the one in her family who as a child climbed the hickory trees to shake out the nuts.  One of her favorite memories was that as a youngster she pitched for Bay View’s boy’s baseball team over the unsuccessful objection of neighboring teams, allegedly because she was a girl but more likely because she was a better pitcher than any of the boys.  Georgia also loved horseback riding and when well into her 70’s, she took her last ride --- a 5-day gallop up the coast of California.

              Georgia loved music, and for many years had season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Lyric in Chicago.  She was a loyal supporter of both the Madison Opera and Opera for the Young, as well as  the Madison Symphony.  She visited every opera house in Europe and arranged many of her European travels around music.  Georgia was also very active in her sorority (Kappa Kappa Gamma).  She and her sorority sisters held regular reunions until the pandemic.  She also served on the House Board in Madison for many years.  She loved travel and made many trips to Greece and the Holy Land (Israel, Jordan and Egypt).  The only countries she never got to in Europe were the Scandinavian and Baltic countries.   Her favorite destinations were France, Italy and the Czech Republic for their music and their food, and London, despite its food and uncomfortable seating for its Shakespeare performances.  She took long trips to China and former parts of the Soviet Union, retracing the Old Silk Road.  She also hiked the Patagonia region in Chili, visited most of the country’s national parks and twice hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, once in her 70’s.

              Before moving to Covenant Oaks at Oakwood Village early this year, Georgia had lived most of her 60 years as a Madison resident in a neighborhood in the Hoyt Park area known for its mid-century modern housing (on Priscilla Lane).  She loved her house and her  neighbors, and was active with several organizations researching the neighborhood’s history, obtaining historical registry for it and working with the Wright and Like group in Madison.

              Georgia is preceded in death by her parents William J. Shambes and Theodora Andros Shambes and a sister Pauline Preketes.   She is survived by three other sisters, Pat Chatas, who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sophie McGee, who lives in Key West, Florida and Bay View, Michigan, and Marion Cook, who lives in Petoskey, Michigan; numerous nieces and nephews and their children; and her many friends and former colleagues located in Wisconsin and throughout the country.

Contributions in her memory can be made either to the Madison Opera and Opera for the Young, or to the Dane County Humane Society

Please share your memories of Georgia here on her tribute wall.

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