Honoring Our Own

Alumni Relations icon Lou Liay to receive honorary doctorate

Lou Liay standing at a podium Lou Liay (Image by Holly Birch Photography)
Alumni Relations icon Lou Liay to receive honorary doctorate

At Commencement ceremonies on May 12, 2023, the University will confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters upon Louis Liay, EDM ’62, crowning a lifetime of exemplary work on behalf of Illinois alumni. “I was stunned,” Liay says about learning of the upcoming honor. “And I’m grateful to all of the people who have supported me.”

The son of an Illinois coal miner, Liay completed his undergraduate degree at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill., blossomed into a teacher and enrolled at the U of I for a master’s in education. Subsequently drawn to advancement work at the University, he served as executive director of the University of Illinois Alumni Association from 1983 to 1998. His forward-thinking initiatives included making the UIAA the largest dues-based alumni association model in the U.S. at the time; establishing an alumni travel program and career center; boosting Illini clubs nationwide; and engaging students as future alumni.

Over the years, he has come to know thousands of Illini by name. “My wife, Mary, always said I wanted to meet all 500,000 alumni,” Liay says.

For long-time colleague President Emeritus Stanley O. Ikenberry, HON ’02, HON ’19, Liay defined “an Illinois spirit that lingers today.” And indeed, in 1997, the UIAA established the Lou Liay Spirit Award in his honor. Now age 90, Liay returned to the association several years ago to provide outreach to its senior alumni members, offering his dedicated service yet again.