Shama Gamkhar, a public affairs professor at the University of Texas who colleagues described as a generous and caring mentor, died with her husband in a plane crash in rural Georgia Sunday. She was 54.
Gamkhar and her husband, Sid Shah, 58, who was piloting the single-engine plane, were the only people on board. The couple was flying from Florida to Lawrenceville, Georgia, according to a press release from the Federal Aviation Administration. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
The couple, who married within the last five years, lived in different cities — she in Austin, he in Atlanta — and would often fly to see each other, friends said.
“I think she was the happiest she’d ever been in her life, with Sid,” said Angela Evans, a clinical professor at UT’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
Gamkhar and Shah, who worked as a physician at the Rockdale Medical Center’s Wound Care and Hyperbaric Center, met through a mutual acquaintance and began “a wonderful romance,” said Bob Wilson, UT’s Mike Hogg professor of urban policy. They had a large reception at a historic home in downtown Austin with their friends and families.
“Everyone was just beaming,” said Sherri Greenberg, a clinical professor at UT.
Gamkhar, who arrived at UT in 1996 as an assistant professor, aimed to produce knowledge for the public good through her research, which focused on government financial policy, Wilson said. For instance, Wilson said, Gamkhar researched how public schools can fund construction projects, evaluating the pros and cons of different types of bonds.
“In a world full of big egos, hers was not that. She was humble, calm, but profoundly smart,” Evans said. “She had the right to have a big ego, but she didn’t.”
Gamkhar published a book in 2002 about federal grants, worked as a consultant to the World Bank and taught classes to master’s students in public financial management, environmental economics and state and local government finance.
“She brought her own point of view, but was also very accommodating and understanding, very empathetic in interacting with other people,” Wilson said.
Last summer, Gamkhar, then an associate professor, became the adviser for students pursuing a master’s in public affairs. Reyne Telles, who takes one class at UT a semester while also working as a spokesman for the City of Austin, said Gamkhar was willing to miss her bus ride home to stay longer and finish a meeting with him.
“It was very evident that she cared a lot about her students and their success,” Telles said.
Gamkhar’s family lives in India and could not be reached for comment. Shah’s family also could not be reached for comment.
Information about services and survivors was not available Monday.