Dr. Georgia Triantafillou, distinguished mathematician and champion of Greek education, passed away in Princeton, NJ, after a hard-fought battle with cancer on March 5, 2023 at age 72 years young. She was Professor of Mathematics at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, and a pillar of the Greek community in Hamilton, NJ, where she spearheaded and co-founded a bilingual Greek-English preschool. She also served for many years as president of the organization Hellenic Vision, which promoted Hellenic culture through exhibits, lectures, and concerts.
Her life story began in the poorest house of a small Greek village, and led her through some of the most eminent research institutions of the world. Born in 1950 in the town of Spercheiada, central Greece, Dr. Triantafillou grew up without electricity until age thirteen. Despite adverse conditions, she devoted herself to her studies and quickly distinguished herself as the top student in the local school. The other townsfolk would say “Georgia is so smart, one day she will become the teacher of our school!” Little did they know how much farther her dreams and aspirations would take her.
At the end of highschool, when taking the national qualifying exams for university admission, she achieved the fourth-highest ranking in all of Greece to study mathematics at the National University of Athens. She went on to win a series of state scholarships which fully funded her undergraduate studies. Nevertheless, she spent all her free time working tirelessly as a tutor all over Athens to raise enough money to help her younger siblings, Popi and Vaggelis, also pursue their studies in the capital. She graduated number 1 in her university class, which earned her a further scholarship to continue her studies in Bonn, Germany, and pursue a PhD in the field of algebraic topology. While in Bonn, she met her future husband and father of her children, the physicist Vladimir Visnjic.
Dr. Triantafillou came to America in the 70’s as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She subsequently held academic positions at numerous other prestigious institutions: The University of Chicago, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin in Madison, and the University of Crete. She published many influential papers in the field of algebraic topology and presented her original research at numerous international conferences. In 1990 she became the first woman in Greece to ever be elected full Professor of Mathematics at the National University of Athens. For the past few decades, she served as Professor of Mathematics at Temple University, where she was an exceedingly popular instructor whose excellence in teaching difficult subjects has been recognized through teaching awards. Her students often joked that she was able to “make sense out of nonsense.”
Georgia’s love of mathematics was rivaled only by her passion for promoting and propagating our beautiful Greek culture, especially to children. In raising her own kids, Katerina and Vanya (“Jack”), she would sing dimotika songs with them on long car rides, dance kalamatiano and tsamiko with them in the living room and at the panigyria in Greece, and read Greek myths to them at bedtime. When they grew up she turned her efforts to the Greek community of central New Jersey and organized many summer camps for students to be immersed in Greek language and critical thinking skills. She spearheaded and co-founded the first bilingual Greek-English preschool in the area, where she served pro bono as director for several years. Drawing from her life experience as an educator, she designed the curriculum for the school on her own, trained the other instructors, and often taught classes herself as a volunteer. Whenever she visited Greece during those years she would scour the local shops for children’s books and toys, and would come back with suitcases full of new educational material for the preschool. Her eyes lit up whenever she would talk about “her children.” The kids of the school felt her love and devotion and their little faces would brighten up whenever she entered the classroom.
As a committed member of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Hamilton, NJ, and as president of the organization Hellenic Vision, Professor Triantafillou also organized countless events, lectures, exhibits, and concerts for the broader community as a whole. In 2012, as part of an initiative to draw attention to achievements of ancient Greek astronomy, she constructed a large-scale replica of the Antikythera Mechanism for the annual Greek parade in New York. Her reconstructed model attracted the attention of journalists and scientists, and led to further events promoting the knowledge of ancient science. Professor Triantafillou was also a member of the International Hellenic Association (IHA – https://professors-phds.com/iha ), which promotes education in schools in Greece and abroad. If anyone would like to honor her memory with a financial gift, they may donate to the IHA with the designation “schools.” The funds will be used to promote and renovate schools in Greece.
Professor Triantafillou was the matriarch of a highly academic family, with both her children receiving PhDs from Princeton University. Her whole life was centered around education for all ages, including for her grandchildren, who were her stars in the last few years. Georgia passed away peacefully and stoically in the arms of her loving children Katerina and Jack. Besides them, she is also survived by her husband Vladimir, sister Popi, and four granddaughters (Zoe, Alexandra, Athena, Lydia), all of whom adore her and will carry her memory with them forever.
At her request, the funeral will take place in her hometown in Greece.
A small private viewing for close friends and family was held on Wednesday, March 8, in Princeton.
May her memory be eternal!