Cover photo for Thomas Mahan's Obituary
Thomas Mahan Profile Photo

Thomas Mahan

d. August 31, 2020


Thomas W. Mahan, Ph.D., a resident of Brevard since 1991, died on August 31, 2020 at age 91. Tom is survived by his wife Susan Petersen, his joy and inspiration, by his two children, Maureen M Copelof and her husband Sylvan of Brevard and his son T. Brendan Mahan and his wife Sally Parker of Atlanta, GA. Tom, a retired graduate dean and psychology professor, had a rich and varied career. After spending seven years as Catholic seminarian and three years as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, he turned to the academic world where he spent over 35 years before retiring to Brevard. In the turbulent years of the 1960s he was a pioneer in the school desegregation movement and continued his efforts in school reform into his retirement years. He also became very active in the religious and mental health worlds. But his wife and children were and remained his top priority.

Over his career Tom embraced a number of sayings that he saw as a “toolkit” for living vibrantly and he shared these with his graduate students and friends. Central to that “toolkit” were: the only thing worth doing is the impossible; reality serves no purpose; it is easier to get forgiveness than permission; the courage to dream and the courage to be wrong are the roads to freedom. Beyond all these, he was buoyed by the conviction that “Grace is everywhere” and he meant everywhere! Throughout his life Tom was known for his smile, his sense of humor and his contagious positive attitude. He was never comfortable with the status quo and he saw “fear” as the root “sin” of the modern world, infec5ing nations, governments, churches, schools, along with individuals where deceit, pretense, “masks” and “fig leaves” hide true feelings and honest interactions. The “unveiling” of this “sin” in his personal and professional life and in the institutions which he loved and where he worked was at the soul of his life's endeavors.

Tom received many recognitions and awards over the decades. He especially treasured six: St Pope John Paul II made him a knight commander in the Order of St. Gregory the Great; his alma mater, the Theological College of the Catholic University of America, chose him to be the second recipient of the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Medal for contributions to Church and community; the State of South Carolina selected Tom to be the second Governor's Professor of the Year; The Citadel, where Tom spent 20 years, many as the college's first graduate dean, saw fit to give him three different honors – upon retirement in 1991 he received The Palmetto Medal, awarded only on unanimous consent of the Board of Visitors; on the 35th anniversary of the creation of the Graduate Studies Program he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities; and in February 2017 he was inducted into the Citadel Wall of Fame for his “outstanding historical contribution to education.” But Tom insisted that the titles that honored him most and were most precious to him were: Dad and Husband.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions there will be no service at this time.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Free Rein, P.O. Box 1325, Brevard, NC 28712 or Rise & Shine, P.O. Box 1036, Brevard, NC  28712.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Thomas Mahan, please visit our flower store.


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