Thomas Lynch

Friday, May 26, 2023 4:01 pm

Thomas Francis Lynch, 85, of Decorah, died on May 25, 2023.

There will be no formal services for Thomas. Burial will be at a later date in Grand Marais, Minn.

Donations in his memory can be made to Historic Cook County, the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History, or the Center for the Study of First Americans at Texas A&M University.

Tom was born in 1938 and grew up in St. Paul, Minn. He was the son of noted dermatologist Francis Watson Lynch and Viola White Lynch, an avid quilter and antique collector.  He attended Holy Spirit elementary school and St. Thomas Military Academy before going to Cornell University where he majored in anthropology and developed long-term interests in motorcycles and in folk and country music.  Before going east to college, Tom spent summers with his mother, his brother Peter and sister Mary on the shore of Lake Superior near Grand Marais, Minn. As a teenager he worked at Tofte’s grocery and studied art with Bernie Quick.  His love for Grand Marais and the North Shore was central throughout his life.

In 1960, Tom began graduate study in anthropology at the University of Chicago. In 1961 he married Brooklynite Barbara Deutsch. He initially studied paleolithic archaeology in Europe, and conducted field work in Ambrona (Soria) Spain, but his interests soon turned to the early inhabitants of the Americas and the environments in which they lived.  In 1963, he surveyed sites in southern and western Idaho as a researcher for Idaho State University. In May 1964, shortly after his first daughter was born, he began dissertation research at Quishqui Puncu, a preceramic site near Vicos, Peru. That fall, he joined the faculty of the Anthropology Department at Cornell University and went on to chair the department, helping develop an archaeology teaching program that brought together anthropologists and classicists.

Throughout the 1960s, Tom’s research focused on the ways in which early inhabitants of Peru’s Callejon de Huaylas used indigenous plants and animals in the development of distinctive Andean agropastoral systems.  Accompanied by Barbara and their three children (Beth, Jean, and Julie), he surveyed preceramic sites in the upper Santa Valley and conducted excavations at Guitarrero Cave, which yielded what were found to be the world’s earliest cultivated beans.

In 1972, the family traveled to Ecuador where Tom excavated Chobshi Cave near Gualaceo. As indicated by the bone and obsidian tools found at the site, it was a base camp for Andean hunter-gatherers. In 1976, Tom entered into a long-term collaboration with colleagues working at the Universidad del Norte in Antofagasta and in Arica, Chile. Through the next several decades, he returned with students from Cornell and the Universidad del Norte to excavate a pre-Columbian settlement near San Pedro de Atacama and survey the area surrounding the Salar de Atacama and the Loa Valley. Jane Flaherty, whom he married in 1989, accompanied him on several later expeditions.

In 1995, along with their children, Clare and Finn, Jane and Tom moved to College Station, Texas, where he assumed the directorship of the Brazos Valley Museum in Bryan and was adjunct professor at Texas A&M. Their third child, Patrick, was born in Texas. Tom embraced his life as a Texan, joining the Rotary Club and receiving many awards from civic organizations resulting from his work with the museum.  He was proud of the museum’s role in recognizing the importance of and preserving the skiff Mary Terrell, a Brazos River boat built following the great flood of 1913 to rescue bottom-land farmers from future floods. He also developed a keen interest in historic firearms, amassing an impressive collection, and served for many years on the Brazos County Historical Commission.  Tom retired in 2008 and enjoyed the companionship of Ranie Arnold in his later years. He and Ranie spent much of the year in Grand Marais near his beloved Lake Superior, where he devoted his energies to volunteer work with Historic Cook County serving as a docent at the St. Francis Xavier Church in Chippewa City near Grand Marais.

He lived his final years in Decorah, where daughter Beth and son-in-law Steve reside.

He is survived by his brother (Peter J. Lynch) and sister (Mary Hanrahan) six children, Elizabeth A. Lynch (Steve Peterson), Jean Lynch-Stieglitz (Marc Stieglitz), Julia F. Lynch (Ben Gord), Clare V. Lynch (Kevin Malcom), William Finn Lynch (Hang), Patrick T. Lynch (Sydney Pham) and six grandchildren, Noah Stieglitz, Amelia Stieglitz, Kieran Laskaway, Eli Laskaway, Alex Malcom, and Emma Malcom.

He was preceded in death by his mother (Viola White Lynch) and father (Francis Watson Lync


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Trey Thurmond
10 months ago

I came to know Tom while serving as President of the for Brazos Valley museum of Natural History. He was so knowledgeable about everything. My wife and family and I got to spend time with him in Gran Marais a few years ago. It was a fun trip and beautiful place. He was a unique human being and expert in his field . He invited me twice to go on a dig in Peru. I so regret no going with him . God bless his soul.

Thomas John Murphy
10 months ago

Tom and I were friends since grade school and high school. We had many experiences His first car was a Mercury coupe, light blue, and we had many a night at Sunnie’s Root Beer stand. With Tom you could talk for hours about almost. any subject. Grand Marais was a special place, they had a house on the shores of Lake Superior. We went hunting for tanzanite which could only be found here and one other place. That was what was so great about Tom, he had so many interests. We debated in the 7th grade he was team captain on one side and I on the other. Father Keefe said it was a tie, but we both though we had won. Dances during High school years and parties were great fun. Tom loved to laugh and joke around.

Mary Hanrahan
Reply to  Thomas John Murphy
7 months ago

Thanks, as his sister I remember some of those stories!

Vidya Rajan
10 months ago

I am so sorry to hear of Tom’s passing. He was a good friend and learned conversationalist. Rest in peace, Tom.

Mary Hanrahan
7 months ago

Thanks so much for posting this. I really appreciate it.