The Illini Comeback Awards
This year, the University of Illinois Alumni Association marks the 20th anniversary of its Illini Comeback Awards, a program that invites prominent and accomplished alumni back to campus during Homecoming Week to share their personal stories and professional experiences with students. Past recipients include Arte Johnson, ’49 MEDIA, an actor and comedian best remembered for his work on the TV comedy show Laugh-in; Professor Der-Tsai LEE, ’76 ENG, PHD ’78 ENG, president of China’s National Chung Hsing University and a leader in computational geometry; Lynn Morley Martin, ’60 LAS, U.S. Secretary of Labor and Illinois Representative for the 16th district; Michael Strautmanis, ’91 MEDIA, JD ’94, chief engagement officer for the Obama Foundation; and Beverly Washington, ’78 FAA, president and CEO of Chicago-based business consulting firm Image Factor.
This year’s Comeback Award recipients, John Graf, ’80 las, and Mary (Vest) Mason, ’90 LAS, were celebrated during Virtual Homecoming Week, Nov. 29–Dec. 5, 2020.
During his 40-year career in global insurance, John Graf has held senior leadership roles at AIG, American General and Conseco. Most recently, he served as chairman, president and CEO of Forethought Financial until its sale to Global Atlantic (where he continues to serve on Global Atlantic’s board of directors). In addition, he has served as a board member of insurance companies QBE and Everest RE. Currently, Graf manages the investment activities of Rambler Ventures, a strategic investor in small-to-midsize, privately owned businesses.
A resident of Houston, Graf is active in the philanthropic community, serving on the boards of the Houston and Nantucket Boys and Girls Clubs, Memorial Hermann Health System, and Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory of Houston. John and his wife, Maureen, are the proud parents of two daughters.
As chief medical officer of corporate health initiatives at Centene Corporation, a St. Louis–based managed care enterprise, Dr. Mary Mason oversees award-winning clinical programs designed to improve quality and reduce medical costs in a managed Medicaid population. She also serves as director of the Centene Institute for Advanced Medical Education. Mason founded and leads the Little Medical School, an award-winning educational organization with offices in more than 60 locations around the world. The school reaches 500,000 children and encourages them to aspire to health-care careers while learning about their own health.
An active member in the St. Louis community, Mason serves on the national board of Parents as Teachers and the national council for Washington University’s Institute of Public Health; she received both her MBA and M.D. from Washington. Mason is president of Dr. Genie’s Kids Foundation, the Little Medical School’s program for children in underserved communities. She received a Washington University School of Medicine Alumni Achievement Award in 2019 and a Women in White Coats Hero Award in 2020.
Mason and her husband John, a general surgeon, have three children.
Comeback Award winners are selected annually by members of the Student Alumni Ambassadors and the UIAA Awards Committee. Nominations accepted online at uiaa.org/illini-comeback-nomination-criteria.—David Scott