MOLINE — Thomas F. Mayer, 62, died Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, at the Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House in Bettendorf, after a year-and-a half-long struggle with cancer. He was born Sept. 10, 1951, in McLeansboro, Ill.

A Celebration of Life service will be at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad-Cities, Davenport, at 11 a.m. Saturday. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be left in Thomas' name to The Nature Conservancy ( or the World Wildlife Fund, WWF ( Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home, Rock Island, is assisting the family.

Tom was professor emeritus of history and an internationally known scholar who taught for most of his life at Augustana College in Rock Island. He received his master's degree in medieval history at Michigan State University and his Ph.D. in Tudor/Stuart history at the University of Minnesota.

As the author of 15 books, he wrote a study of the early 16th century political thinker, Thomas Starkey; a biography of Starkey's patron, Reginald Pole, who missed becoming pope by one vote; and a trilogy on Galileo's trial and the Roman Inquisition. His second volume on the Inquisition was published just before his death, and another book on Galileo's trial will be published posthumously. He also edited five volumes of Pole's correspondence.

He received a number of academic honors. Tom was a fellow of the Royal Historical Society; a Mellon fellow at Harvard; fellow of Villa I Tatti: The Harvard University Center for the Study of the Italian Renaissance, and of the American Academy in Rome. He lectured widely, most recently late last year as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at UCLA, inaugurating its 50th year.

He was the first American scholar to be granted access to the Vatican's Archives of the Holy Office in 1997, and also that year, he started the Center for the Study of the Christian Millennium at Augustana. This multi-disciplinary academic initiative focuses on European history from 600-1600. Recently, the Thomas F. Mayer Research Prize, an annual award for an outstanding student's senior research project, was created at Augustana.

He won two Fulbright Fellowships, the Hanson Lee Dulin Fellowship, and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, Newberry Library/Exxon Foundation Fellowship, University of Iowa and Saint Louis University.

In 2009, Tom consulted on the PBS documentary, "Michelangelo Revealed."

He contributed to articles appearing in The New Yorker, The New York Times and numerous scholarly journals.

Tom married Jan Popehn on Aug. 13, 1983, on the University of Minnesota campus. From their union, they had one daughter, Molly Elisabeth. He loved traveling and had done so extensively with Jan and Molly.

Despite a full academic life, Tom made time to pursue numerous outside interests. He had a lifelong passion for classical music and passed on his talent as a pianist to his daughter Molly. He enjoyed spending vacations with his family on Lake Superior, studying Great Lakes shipping boats as avidly as he pursued his research. Tom had a deep intellectual curiosity and a wide range of knowledge, reflected in his personal library that contains thousands of books.

He was preceded in death by his father, Herbert T. Mayer, and his mother, Arline Knepper Mayer. His father was the fourth generation of Mayer men to teach at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Tom's grandfather, Frederick, wrote the standard reference work, "The Religious Bodies of America," which is still in print.

He is survived by his wife, Jan Popehn; daughter, Molly Elisabeth Mayer-Popehn, both of Moline; and two sisters, Virginia Pfrimmer and Tedra Britton; along with numerous nieces and nephews.

Online condolences may be left for the family at

the life of: Thomas F. Mayer
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