By Tina H. Hahn
University of Mississippi
Thomas Hayes Mayo, a 21-year-old University of Mississippi student, loved his friends and college life. Described as “a great friend that lit up every room he entered” by fellow students, he died April 14, 2022, from fentanyl poisoning.
“Thomas always wore a smile and appeared full of endless joy,” said his dad, Cal Mayo, of Oxford. “He never saw a half-empty glass. He never met a stranger. He brought laughter and smiles to every group. Thomas was intelligent and took pride in his grades and academic accomplishments.”
The Thomas Hayes Mayo Lab Fund is building momentum toward paying tribute to Mayo’s life by helping those battling substance misuse and mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. Becoming part of the William Magee Institute for Student Wellbeing, the Mayo Lab has received $538,000 in gifts, surpassing its $500,000 goal.
The endowment memorializes the Ole Miss junior who was the youngest of Caroline and Cal Mayo’s four children. Contributions to the fund include a $100,000 anonymous commitment, almost $78,000 in memorial gifts and significant gifts from his parents, Sigma Chi fraternity and Kappa Alpha fraternity.
“The number of memorials in support of the Magee Institute in memory of Thomas overwhelmed us,” Caroline Mayo said. “The Magee Institute and the UM Foundation isolated the donations to use in some special manner, and after considering several ideas, we decided to use the memorials to support the Thomas Hayes Mayo Lab.
“Thomas cared deeply about people, and he would want his legacy attached to a cause that helps other people navigate the difficulties life sometimes presents.”
The family hopes to ensure continuous funding for the Mayo Lab, which will provide educational information and structures to help students and their families from kindergarten through graduate school understand and address various mental health problems that affect our communities, Cal Mayo said.
A great need exists for solutions, said Meagen Rosenthal, interim director of the William Magee Institute for Student Wellbeing.
“As the mental health and substance misuse epidemic deepens amongst our students, families and communities, we must find new ways of meaningfully engaging students to help them find their joy and use best practices that already exist for improving well-being,” she said.
“My vision for the Thomas Hayes Mayo Lab is for it to be a space where we will work directly with students to understand their needs and deliver evidence-based content using compelling storytelling, peer-to-peer discussions and premium contemporary media, such as podcasts and newsletters, that can readily be integrated into their daily lives.”
David Magee, operations manager for the Magee Institute, shared how the Mayo Lab will strengthen the university’s efforts.
“The Thomas Hayes Mayo Lab is a dream come true for us with respect to the work we’re embarking upon in the William Magee Institute for Student Wellbeing and the institute’s Jackie and Faser Triplett Research Center because it provides a structure for educating students and parents about solutions in mental health and substance misuse,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to speak to more than 5,000 high school students and 1,000 parents in the past year and many have asked for help in tackling these critical issues.
“We’ve got to get upstream. Student mental health and substance misuse issues typically begin in middle school or high school, not college – yet things have changed so rapidly. With the arrival of fentanyl, educators and parents need help. The Thomas Hayes Mayo Lab places our focus directly on providing solutions through education, research and communication.”
The initial launch of the Mayo Lab includes two foundational projects that have the potential to impact many individuals and families.
“We don’t want to waste any time, because the crisis is now, and it impacts most every family in this region and country in some way,” Magee said. “One project develops The Happiness Team of Ole Miss students as peer educators, because research shows peer-to-peer education is one of the most effective ways to reach students.
“They’ll get the opportunity to engage with students in schools throughout Mississippi, as well as on campus.”
That project begins this fall. The other significant launch is “The Mayo Lab” podcast with Magee as host.
“There’s a lot of good, useful research and information available for students and parents, but I find much of it lives in silos, never reaching those who need it,” Magee said. “When I speak in schools and with parents, they’re begging for more.
“To that end, we’re developing ‘The Mayo Lab’ podcast as a premium weekly program to bring together the most captivating, useful information and voices from throughout the country to educate and inform parents, educators and all stakeholders.”
The team hopes to begin recording episodes later this fall and launch “The Mayo Lab” in early 2023, he said.
Rosenthal believes the Mayo Lab can become a model for the nation.
“The only way we can meaningfully begin to address the mental health and substance misuse epidemic in our country is by working together to share and spread the best information in ways that will allow our students, families and communities to readily use it every day,” she said.
Thomas Mayo was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity.
Edward Francis II, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, president of Sigma Chi, said he believes that the creation of the Mayo Lab at the Magee Institute will prove to be a valuable resource to all students, “especially those who feel hopeless in the grip of addiction.”
“We hope to see an increase in awareness around the Greek community about the dangers of substance misuse and abuse,” he said. “A lack of education contributes to the problems we are seeing in college students today. It would also be extremely rewarding to see tangible results from the creation of this lab.
“Obviously, we want as many people as possible to receive help, but even one life saved is all we can hope for.
Lee Baker Jr., of Augusta, Georgia, president of Kappa Alpha Order, expressed gratitude that the fraternity can be part of the William Magee Institute’s mission to ensure Ole Miss students will “never feel hopeless by providing the necessary resources to combat their struggles.”
“Thomas had a genuine impact on everyone with whom he interacted, but especially with the Ole Miss community, including the vast majority of our chapter,” he said. “His personality broke down social barriers and he was a friend to many of us.
“Our hope, through this donation, is to honor Thomas’ legacy by providing support for students struggling with similar mental health issues.”
The William Magee Institute for Student Wellbeing is named for David Magee’s son, an honors student who lettered in track and field for Ole Miss and graduated in 2012, dying a year later of an accidental drug overdose.
“Like so many in our community, I am honored to have known and loved Thomas,” Magee said. “We’ll always miss his passion for life, and I’ll never get over the loss of my son William and too many others. But the Thomas Hayes Mayo Lab will save many others, doing important work that nobody else in the country is doing.”
To make a gift to the Thomas Hayes Mayo Lab Fund, send a check, with the fund’s name written in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or online at https://nowandever.olemiss.edu.
For more information, contact Brett Barefoot, senior director of development for parent and family leadership, at email@example.com or 662-915-2711.