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LIU Treasurer Emerita Mary M. Lai To Be Inaugural Recipient of NACUBO’s Pathfinder Award

LIU’s first CFO and one of the first women in the country to rise to that rank, Lai is likely the longest-serving academic business officer in America


Kim Volpe-Casalino,Assistant Vice President for Public Relations
Long Island University,

Brookville, N.Y.—  A living legend in higher education finance, Mary M. Lai will be the inaugural recipient of the National Association of College and University Business Officers' Pathfinder Award. The new award, which recognizes individuals who have made longstanding contributions to the business officer profession, will be presented July 27 at NACUBO's 50th anniversary gala at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

"Mary Lai has been a guiding light for higher education business officers for over six decades, and is the perfect inaugural recipient of the NACUBO Pathfinder Award. Her career is replete with examples of innovative business practices, of transformational leadership and of value-centered decisions that are inspiring," says John Walda, president and CEO of NACUBO. "We are proud and grateful that Mary Lai helped build the foundation for the success of our association, and for the advancement of the business officer profession."

According to NACUBO, Mrs. Lai is likely the longest-serving academic business officer in the United States. Now in her 67th year of full-time employment at Long Island University, she was LIU's first CFO and one of the first women in the country to rise to that rank. Today, Mrs. Lai remains an integral part of the University administration, serving as treasurer emerita and senior adviser.

"This is no honorific retirement title. Mary is at the University every day and continues to play a vital role in moving us forward," notes David J. Steinberg, president of Long Island University. "There have been times in the past when Mary's skill and passion for the institution literally made the difference between survival and disaster."

Mrs. Lai earned a B.S. in accounting and economics from the University's Brooklyn Campus, graduating magna cum laude in 1942. A year later, she married her college sweetheart, William T. "Buck" Lai, class of 1941. When Mr. Lai enlisted in the U.S. Naval Air Corps, Mrs. Lai followed him around the country doing accounting, tax returns and bookkeeping for the Navy. When the war ended in 1946, the couple returned to New York, and Mrs. Lai joined Arthur Young as a public accountant.

That same year, Tristram Walker Metcalfe, then president of Long Island University, asked Mrs. Lai to return to her alma mater to serve as bursar. She agreed to do so, on a temporary basis. The job was much more permanent than she ever dreamed. Mrs. Lai served as the University's chief financial officer for nearly 58 years, becoming vice president for finance and treasurer, and guiding the institution through times of tremendous growth and fiscal turmoil. During her tenure as CFO, Mrs. Lai saw enrollment grow from 800 students to more than 30,000. In December 2003, she assumed her current role as treasurer emerita.

 "I love what I do. I love it with a passion," Mrs. Lai said. "There's nothing better than helping students to earn an education and seeing the difference it makes in their lives."

A former treasurer and former board member of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Mrs. Lai has served on more than 50 Middle States accreditation teams. She also was the first female president of both the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and the Eastern Association of College and University Business Officers (EACUBO), and served on the boards of both organizations

Mrs. Lai currently is a trustee of St. Joseph's College and has been a member of the boards of LeMoyne College and Boston College. In addition, she has served on the boards of the Educational & Institutional Cooperative Service, East New York Savings Bank, M&T Bank and Empire State Bank, and on the advisory board of Chemical Bank. In most cases, Mrs. Lai broke gender barriers to become the first woman to serve on these institutions' boards. 

Her years of hard work and dedication have earned her the respect of colleagues across the University and throughout the metropolitan area. Mrs. Lai's achievements and service have been acknowledged through numerous awards and honors including the NACUBO Distinguished Business Officer Award; the Peat Marwick/EACUBO Distinguished Service Award; the Soroptimist Woman of Distinction Award; the Accounting Executive of the Year award from the Institute of Management Accountants; an honorary doctorate from Fordham University, where she earned a master's degree; and many Long Island University-bestowed honors including a Trustee Award, a Distinguished Alumna Award and an honorary doctorate. In 1996, in recognition of her 50th anniversary with the institution, the structure that houses the University's financial operation was named the Mary M. Lai Finance Building. Most recently, she was honored by the American Association of University Women.

Posted 07/24/2012

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