"You didn't graduate from Tim," said a former student of Tim Mazzoni, a University of Minnesota education professor who died last month.

"Unless you step aside, he continues to mentor and support and invest in you throughout your career," said Betty Malen, a University of Maryland professor of educational politics. "He was not a fair-weather friend or a one-shot adviser."

Mazzoni, 73, died at his home in Rancho Bernardo, Calif., of cancer. A celebration of his life will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday at the McNamara Alumni Center at the University of Minnesota. He was a department chair who researched and taught for nearly 30 years before retiring in 1999.

Mazzoni, who grew up in California, won the university's prestigious Beck Award for "excellence in teaching and advising" in 1996.

Mazzoni played high school football and became an avid Gopher and Vikings fan in Minnesota, said Judy Mazzoni, his wife of 52 years. They lived in New Brighton before retiring to the San Diego area. When word spread about his cancer, friends and former students from around the country mailed and e-mailed them, she said.

Mazzoni became a turning point in Malen's life when she took his educational politics class in the early 1980s.

"Tim got people excited about learning. ... He was always accessible to students," she said. "He had an incredible ability to help people see the difference between the work they had done and the work they could do. You'd think you had got it, and then you would talk to Tim and he'd help raise your work to a whole new level."

Mazzoni was a good listener and pushed to open academia's "old boys club" to women and minorities, Malen said.

Mazzoni wrote a reference letter that helped Malen land her first professor job at the University of Utah in 1984. His backing meant a lot "because he has a lot of integrity and people know he calls it as he sees it," she said.

Mazzoni was an enthusiastic lecturer who enjoyed discussing how politics at the Capitol and local level affected education. He sometimes attended legislative education hearings and school board meetings to gain insight and information, said Prof. Emeritus Neal Nickerson.

In class, "he was very animated and always covered with chalk dust" as he scribbled across the board, said retired U Prof. Bill Ammentorp, a friend and colleague for 40 years. He said Mazzoni worked closely with students on their dissertations. "He was always very careful when a student took a position that they could support it and articulate it," he said.

Malen said she'll remember Mazzoni for his "keen mind and his kind heart; his commitment to helping people become better analysts, better educators and better persons."

Along with his wife, Mazzoni is survived by brothers John, Martin and Steven; son, Matthew; daughters Michelle and Lisa Krause, and four grandchildren.

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658