"The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the
of a great example." Benjamin Disraeli
Perhaps no other quote speaks to the character of our great friend Stuart Mason better than this one. His name is synonymous with integrity, community building and success. And through his example Stuart inspired those who knew him to be honest, courageous, kind, determined - to be better people, in every way.
Stuart passed away, surrounded by his loving family, on April 28. All of us at UNLV Libraries were heartbroken at this sad news. Yet, as we reflect on how he touched our lives, we are reminded of how fortunate we have been to know him.
"Stuart was our students' and our faculty's number one fan and cheerleader," says UNLV Libraries Dean Patricia Iannuzzi. "He left an indelible imprint on our ability to do more for students by supporting our efforts to nurture them and make readily accessible the resources they need to succeed."
Stuart was not only one of Nevada's most successful builders, spearheading landmark projects such as Caesar's Palace and the MGM Grand, he was also a builder of human potential; the kind of potential to which every UNLV student is entitled, but is sometimes threatened by challenging personal circumstances. He was acutely aware of these students, and of their special needs. This master builder and his wife, Flora, set out to design and construct what many of his friends describe as one of his most cherished endeavors: The Mason Undergraduate Peer Coach Program at UNLV Libraries.
Now in its fifth year, the goal of this program is to help motivated students who are identified as statistically at risk of not completing their education. It was paramount to Stuart to help them stay in school and get their degrees, as well as to empower them with practical skills they can utilize today and long after graduation in their professional and personal lives.
After undergoing extensive training on how to use the Libraries' myriad resources, the Mason Peer Coaches serve as front line research mentors to their peers. They embark on a kind of pay it forward movement because those who learn information literacy skills from them can--and always do--pass on the knowledge to their friends and family, and often to their professors. Stuart was all about paying it forward.
The opportunity to learn to decipher the reliability of content from a growing number of information outlets is highly advantageous in today's fast paced and ever-evolving information age. This, coupled with their experiences as peer coaches, help to build their resumes and enhance their self confidence. And while these qualities alone make for a powerful program, Stuart and Flora had an even greater vision. Together with Director of User Services Vicki Nozero, who from its inception has worked with the Masons to mold the program, they added a life skills component to teach the coaches important basics such as job interview skills, dressing for success, business and dining etiquette, and cooking.
"I never knew that a school program could impact my life in so many ways. I met my best friend and my mentor, and together with the other peer coaches we became a family," says Mason Peer Coach graduate Gina Cassaro, '11. "The program allowed me to focus on school, with the encouragement to pursue my dreams and the support to accomplish my goals." After graduation, Gina served as a Spanish teacher in Madrid. Today, she is a successful financial analyst.
"Stuart Mason was the heart of the Mason Undergraduate Peer Research Coach Program," says Vicki. "He was dedicated to the goal to provide students at UNLV with not only the research skills they need to be successful academically, but with the skills to be successful in their life after graduation."
The Mason Peer Coaches also knew Stuart to have a great sense of humor. Peer Coach Erica Zepeda, '14 describes him as both modest and funny. "Stuart was truly the most humble person I have ever met, but he had a very bubbly personality. I looked forward to visiting with him because he always had something funny to say," she explains. "He and Mrs. Mason had a huge impact on my life because without their generosity I would not be able afford tuition or to be as independent," she adds.
Erica's sentiment is shared by Peer Coach Tavarius Bolden, '13. "Stuart Mason was a very nice and caring gentleman. The thing that I will remember most about him is his kind and charitable heart. His compassion for underprivileged youth and his recognition of the importance of education had a major impact on my college experience. He had a positive impact on the lives of all the coaches."
Friends say that when Stuart arrived in Las Vegas with his wife and children in 1965 he felt immediately at home. Here he would make a life for himself and those dearest to him. In those days, the Vegas Valley was seen by many as a dust bowl in the middle of nowhere. But, to refer back to his gift to see the potential in all things, he rolled up his sleeves, worked exceedingly hard and joined those with a pioneering spirit like his to make our city the world's leader in hospitality, gaming and entertainment, as well as a great place to live.
In the same way he saw a future for Las Vegas beyond what many expected, so too did he see the potential in the Mason Peer Coaches to do amazing things in their lives and for the world. Stuart, we will deeply miss you. Thank you for believing in our students, for opening doors, and for showing the Mason Peer Coaches they can reach their wildest dreams. Thank you for your example.