Author's life was filled with honors and laughter

Published May 14, 2007

ST. PETE BEACH - With the knowledge that her ovarian cancer had spread and that her time was running short, Joanne Trautmann Banks decided to visit some of the places she had always wanted to go to, including the Galapagos Islands.

"She called it her farewell tour, " said her stepson Andrew Banks, of Bermuda.

Mrs. Banks, recognized as a leading scholar on American author Virginia Woolf and a pioneer in interdisciplinary studies, died Saturday (May 5, 2007) at her home in St. Pete Beach. She was 65.

"She loved to laugh, " Banks said of his stepmother. "She had this laugh that came from somewhere deep in her soul and would just echo through the room."

Born in Stillwater, Minn., Mrs. Banks earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin- River Falls and her master's degree from Purdue University. She taught English, humanities and medicine at Drexel University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Virginia before she began her teaching career at St. Petersburg's Eckerd College.

Perhaps her most notable achievement was the publication in the 1970s and '80s of the six-volume Letters of Virginia Woolf, which she co-edited with Nigel Nicolson.

"Until this point, they had never been in print in one place, " said Terry Brown, dean of the UWRF College of Arts and Sciences, who called the project a "massive undertaking."

Mrs. Banks is known in literary circles, Brown said. "People who are scholars of Virginia Woolf will recognize the name of Trautmann."

Mrs. Banks had a deep appreciation for interdisciplinary studies and was especially interested in the connections between the humanities and medicine, Brown said. She was a founding editor of the John Hopkin's journal Literature and Medicine.

She also wrote two books in the field, Healing Arts in Dialogue: Medicine and Literature, and Literature and Medicine: An Annotated Bibliography.

"Her work as an academic has been in bringing different disciplines into dialogue with each other, to see how one discipline can learn from another. It really is an act of brilliance on her part that she was able to see (the connection), " Brown said.

Mrs. Banks also was a philanthropist, donating money to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to create the Banks Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and support sabbatical funding for interdisciplinary teachers. She also donated money to Eckerd to establish the Samuel A. Banks Study Area in the Peter H. Armacost Library in honor of her late husband.

Mrs. Banks received numerous awards, including a fellowship of the Institute for Arts and Humanities in Pennsylvania, an honorary doctorate from Purdue University, and a Lifetime Achievement award from the American Association for the study of Bioethics and Humanities.

Andrew Banks said his stepmother was an intelligent and generous woman who was devoted to her family and friends. "She was a very loyal person. The people she loves, she loves with real dedication, and that extended not just to family, but to a number of her colleagues and a number of her students, " he said.

In addition to Andrew Banks, Mrs. Banks is survived by a son, Piers Samuel Alston Banks, St. Petersburg; a stepdaughter, Lisa Banks, Raleigh, N.C.; a brother, P. Thomas Belfiori, Sauk Rapids, Minn.; and a sister, Patricia Belfiori, River Falls, Wis.

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Memorial service

A memorial will be at 11 a.m. May 25 at Eckerd College Wireman Chapel. Burial will be at Oak Hill Burial Park in Lakeland. Contributions may be sent to the Banks Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, 410 South Third St., River Falls, WI 54022.