LU taps four as Distinguished Alumni for 2017

Lamar 2017 Distinguished Alumni

The Lamar University Office of Alumni Affairs has named four alumni as Distinguished Alumni for 2017, noting that their dedication to their professions, service to their communities and loyalty to their alma mater epitomizes the Lamar University spirit, officials said.

“The Distinguished Alumni Awards are the highest honor presented to alumni from the university and these four individuals not only represent excellence in their careers but also a genuine love for their alma mater,” said Shannon Copeland, director of alumni affairs. “It is an honor to name them as our Distinguished Alumni for 2017.”

Nominated by their peers and selected for the honor by the Distinguished Alumni Awards committee comprised of Alumni Advisory Board members are: Becky Dickson Mason, of Beaumont and a member of the class of 1971; Charles E. “Chuck” Mason, Jr., of Beaumont, class of 1972; Jorge L. Quijano of Panama, classes of 1973 and 1974; and Hyattye O. Simmons, class of 1979. This is the first time in Lamar University’s history to present the distinguished alumni award to a couple.

The honorees will be feted at the annual distinguished alumni dinner February 24. For more information on the event and to register, visit www.lamar.edu/daa.

Becky (Dickson) Mason ’71

Becky (Dickson) Mason graduated magna cum laude from Lamar University in 1971 with a Bachelor of Science degree in education before teaching school for six years, raising a family, and developing a nationally recognized safety program for Mason Construction.

While attending Lamar University, Mason was active in Alpha Chi Omega sorority, a member of Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society, and president of Lamar’s Texas Student Education Association. Under her leadership, Lamar’s chapter implemented a program enabling education majors to volunteer in area classrooms to gain experience and to better understand their future profession.

Greatly influenced by her education professor Betty Coody, Mason was an innovative first grade teacher at Blanchette Elementary School in Beaumont. She combined hands-on experiences like cooking in the classroom, hatching baby ducklings, and story telling with reading activities that resulted in highly motivated students. She later applied those same principles of activity-based learning to teach and motivate the construction workers in Mason Construction’s award-winning safety program.

Although ending her official teaching after her children were born, Mason’s commitment to education never faltered. She was a regular classroom volunteer and PTA member throughout their school years, serving as president of the PTA in every school her children attended.

Throughout her career, Mason has been extremely involved in the Southeast Texas Community. She held leadership positions with Beaumont Community Players, Symphony of Southeast Texas, Junior League of Beaumont, Young Audiences of Southeast Texas, and the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce. She is also a dedicated member of the Beaumont Rotary Club, where she served as president during the club’s Centennial in 2012-2013. Becky and Chuck were not only the first husband and wife to each hold the Rotary Club of Beaumont’s top office but also the only couple to be individually awarded the T. Kelsey Lamb Award for Business Ethics, which Becky received in 2016. While serving as president of Rotary, she led the charge to build a barrier-free, accessible playground in downtown Beaumont near the city’s Event Centre, as the club’s Centennial gift to the community.

She currently serves as an assistant governor of Rotary for District 5910. Mason is a past president and long-time supporter of Young Audiences of Southeast Texas as well as a past member of the Young Audiences National Board, Beaumont Public School Foundation, the Foundation for Southeast Texas and United Way.

She is past president of both the Women’s Symphony League and the Symphony of Southeast Texas, where she received the Joseph Carlucci Award for extraordinary service to the Symphony; past president of the Junior League of Beaumont serving from 1990-1991 and receiving the League’s Active of the Year Award in 1992; and board member of the Julie Rogers Gift of Life Program where she received the Gift of Life’s Angels Among Us Award in 2016 in recognition for her support of the program.

In addition to her volunteer efforts in the community, Mason has held a variety of volunteer leadership roles at Lamar University. She served as a community representative to the 2015 Strategic Planning Committee, the Alumni Advisory Board from 2005-2008, the board of the JASON Project, and the executive committee of the Friends of the Arts Board where she is serving her second term as vice president. She and Chuck were the 2012 Le Grand Bal Honorees and host of a “Dinner and Twelve Strangers” event in 2006. The Masons have also worked closely with the Lamar Rotaract Club, including helping several of the members apply for and receive Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarships for study abroad.

In addition to their volunteer efforts at Lamar, the Masons endowed the first privately funded Mirabeau Scholarship, one of the most prestigious scholarships the university offers. The Masons have generously supported faculty research and development, as well as numerous scholarships, the Cardinal Club, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education and Human Development, the College of Business, and many other significant projects and goals of the university. They are members of the Spindletop Society, Mirabeau Society, and President’s Circle.

The Masons reside in Beaumont and have two children, Charles E. “Chad” Mason III and Kristin Lenoir, and have four grandchildren. Kristin and her husband Alexander reside in Houston, and Chad and his wife Lauren reside in Beaumont where he carries on the family tradition, serving as vice president of administration for Mason Construction.

Charles E. “Chuck” Mason Jr. ’72

Chuck Mason represents the third generation at the helm of Mason Construction, Ltd., a family owned civil industrial contractor founded in 1939 by his grandfather. Mason joined the company in 1970 and has served as its president since 1980. When he and his brother Brad ‘74 began working in the company, they and their father were three of the company’s six employees. Since then, the company has grown to more than 400 employees working throughout Southeast Texas.

During Mason’s tenure as president, Mason Construction has been honored with the BBB “Torch Award for Business Ethics” in 1999, as well as the Greater Beaumont Chamber of Commerce “Spindletop Award” in 2010 and numerous local and national safety awards. As part of Beaumont’s Spindletop Centennial Celebration, Mason Construction built and donated the working replica of the gusher that is a popular feature of Lamar University’s Spindletop Gladys City Boomtown Museum.

Mason entered college with dreams of becoming the next Jacque Cousteau. But after working in the family construction business for two summers, he realized that analyzing and solving business problems was where his real skills lay. Fortunately, the skills of observation, analysis and problem solving learned under Lamar University’s biology professor Russell Long proved just as effective in business as in Histology or Embryology classes. Mason graduated from Lamar University in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, but has never lost his fascination with the sciences. In 2001, he was the founding president of the JASON Alliance of Southeast Texas, an organization promoting elementary and middle school science education by providing hands-on science training for both students and their teachers. Since that time, 7,000 to 10,000 students, from school districts throughout Southeast Texas, have participated each year in the Lamar based program, resulting in over 100,000 student visits to Lamar University.

Throughout his career, Mason has been extremely active in the Southeast Texas community. A graduate of Leadership Southeast Texas, he has held leadership roles in Beaumont Rotary, Beaumont Chamber of Commerce, Texas Energy Museum, Beaumont Community Players, Young Audiences, Rebuilding Together Southeast Texas, United Way, and Family Services.

Since 1983, Chuck has been a very active member of the Beaumont Rotary Club, serving as president from 2000-2001. Chuck and his wife Becky are the only couple in club history to both serve as club president and receive the club’s T. Kelsey Lamb, Sr. Award for Business Ethics, which Chuck received in 2010. During 2007-2008, he served as governor of Rotary District 5910, covering Southeast Texas from Port Arthur to Galveston to College Station to Palestine. Mason currently serves as the Rotary International EndPolioNow Zone Coordinator (Texas and Oklahoma). During Beaumont Rotary’s centennial year 2012-2013, Mason served as project chair for the Rotary Centennial Playground constructed adjacent to the Beaumont Event Center. As a result of that project, Mason joined the board of the Beaumont Children’s Museum, serving as president for 2015 and 2016, during which time the Museum began operations within the Beaumont Civic Center.

Mason has served in a variety of volunteer roles at Lamar University. He is a member of the Lamar University Foundation board where he served as secretary, treasurer, vice president, and chair of the audit committee; the Friends of the Arts Board; Le Grand Bal Honoree (with wife Becky) in 2012; a member of Investing in the Future Campaign Cabinet; and a member of the Reese Construction Management Advisory Council. In 2006, the Masons hosted a “Dinner and Twelve Strangers” event for Lamar University students in their home. They have also worked closely with the Lamar Rotaract Club, including helping several of the members apply for and receive Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarships for study abroad.

In addition to their volunteer efforts at Lamar, the Masons endowed the first privately funded Mirabeau Scholarship, one of the most prestigious scholarships the university offers. The Masons have generously supported faculty research and development, numerous scholarships, the Cardinal Club, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education and Human Development, the College of Business, and many other significant projects and goals of the university. They are members of the Spindletop Society, Mirabeau Society, and President’s Circle.

The Masons reside in Beaumont and have two children, Charles E. “Chad” Mason III and Kristin Lenoir, and have four grandchildren. Kristin and her husband Alexander reside in Houston, and Chad and his wife Lauren reside in Beaumont where he carries on the family tradition, serving as vice president of administration for Mason Construction.

Jorge L. Quijano ’73, ’74

Jorge Quijano is the CEO of the Panama Canal Authority, the autonomous agency that manages the leading interoceanic waterway serving world maritime commerce. He has worked with the proclaimed Eighth Wonder of the World for more than 40 years, having begun as an engineer and product forecaster at Texaco Oil Refinery before becoming maritime operations director of the Canal, then executive vice president of the Engineering and Programs Management Department. He was promoted to CEO in 2012, taking charge of the canal expansion project that began in 2007 to double its capacity. The expanded canal, which took its first commercial transit in June 2016, will greatly influence how the world conducts business and trade.

Quijano came to Lamar University from Panama City on a tight budget allotted by his father. He chose Lamar out of the four schools to which he had applied and was accepted because of its diverse curriculum. He thrived there, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering in 1973 and a Master of Engineering the following year as job offers lined up. He returned to Panama City in 1974 to begin his career. In addition to his academic degrees, he is also a graduate of executive management programs from the Federal Executive Institute, Charlottesville, Virginia, and Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois.

Quijano serves as a member of the Lamar University Civil Engineering Advisory Council. He has returned to LU to lecture in the College of Engineering and to share with business, industry and governmental representatives from across the state on the Panama Canal expansion. In 2013, he received the Lamar University Industrial Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his lifelong dedication and professional excellence as an engineer. He has conducted tours of the Panama Canal for Lamar University students studying abroad, and he has selected Lamar University engineering students to participate in internships at the Panama Canal. His loyalty to the university and his continued support of the College of Engineering is credited to the hands-on instruction he received from his professors and his gratitude for his education throughout his career.

Quijano strives to build trust between himself and his employees, because he recognizes that even though the work is technical, it is people who perform the work. He works hard to get to know his employees and to build relationships on mutual trust. He manages thousands of people from 36 different nationalities, and he says he enjoys every second of his career. Quijano was named an “Honorary Citizen of Texas” in 2013 by the Texas Senate, received the Joaquin J. Vallarino Medal of Merit in 2014 by Inter-American Council for Trade and Production (CICYP), and the Master Real Estate Award in 2015 by the Panamanian Association of Brokers and Real Estate Developers and the International Real Estate Federation, and, in 2016, he won Personality of the Year at the Seatrade Awards.

Jorge and his wife Marcia live in a refurbished 1906plantation home, three minutes from his office in Panama City. She worked in human resources at the Panama Canal Authority, serving more than 10,000 employees before her retirement and Quijano’s promotion to CEO. Their two children have both been successful, earning degrees and returning to Panama to work. Their son has practiced Maritime Law for more than a decade.

Quijano loves his career in the “Hub of the Americas” and cannot wait to continue to change the world as the Panama Canal’s expansion is realized.

Hyattye O. Simmons ’79

Hyattye Simmons was born in Chicago, Illinois, but in true Texas fashion, his mother, Frettya P. Simmons, moved with her sons to her hometown of Weirgate, Texas. Thus, Hyattye Simmons arrived in East Texas in 1971, where he had the privilege and honor of being taught by some of the same junior high and high school teachers who had taught his mother. While attending school and working on his mother’s small farm, he realized he had the opportunity to begin the education journey that would allow him to keep a promise to become an attorney that he had made to his late brother, LeNardies, who had died mysteriously while attending college.

Simmons graduated from Burkeville High School in 1977 as valedictorian of his class of 56 students and enrolled at Lamar University. At first, he majored in government with a minor in speech. His studies in speech helped him surmount a serious stuttering problem that threatened to derail his goal of becoming an attorney. The stuttering resolved, Simmons later changed his minor to criminal justice and completed his Bachelor of Science degree in government in two-and-a-half years in 1979, summa cum laude, while accruing every other major academic honor Lamar University had to offer: Phi Kappa Phi (National Collegiate Honor Society), Phi Eta Sigma (National Political Science Honor Society) and Blue Key Honor Society.

With the guidance of Lamar University Criminal Justice Professor Jim Love and others, Simmons applied to and was accepted for admission to the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, starting in the Summer of 1980 just six months after graduating Lamar University. After completing his first year of law school, Simmons clerked with numerous state governmental agencies but it was his work as a law clerk for the former State and County Division of the Texas Attorney General’s office that caught the attention of one of the section chiefs, Ward Allen White. When White became general counsel of the Texas Secretary of State, he hired Simmons to be his law clerk and later, his full time legal assistant. After Simmons passed the Bar exam and became a licensed Texas attorney, he was appointed assistant general counsel to the Texas Secretary of State.

Approximately six months after White left his position, Secretary of State Myra A. McDaniel appointed Simmons General Counsel to the Texas Secretary of State at age 26.

After his service to the State of Texas, Simmons moved to Dallas County where he first served as Assistant City Attorney for the City of Dallas for a year before rejoining his previous State of Texas supervisor, Ward Allen White, at the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). At DART, Simmons began a 24-year legal career, holding numerous positions with more than 19 years as a state court civil trial and appellate attorney and the last 5 years as DART’s General Counsel. During his tenure at DART, it grew to become one of the nation’s largest mass transit authorities, making approximately 60 million passenger trips annually and having the longest Light Rail System in the country. While at DART, Simmons received numerous honors and peer recognitions. The numerous appellate decisions he won as a DART appellate attorney have been cited as legal authority in hundreds of subsequent appellate decisions by Texas appellate courts. As DART General Counsel, Simmons was the 2009 recipient of the Magna Stella Award for excellence in leadership and management for a non-profit or government agency from the Texas General Counsel Forum (TGCF). TGCF is a Texas legal association of more than 700 general counsels and senior managing counsel, representing in excess of 450 companies, governmental entities, or non-profit organizations. Simmons has been also accepted for membership to invitation only legal honor societies such as American Bar Foundation, American Board of Trial Advocates, Litigation Counsel of America, Texas Association of Defense Counsel, and the William “Mac” Taylor American Inn of Court.

Having achieved all his goals, Simmons retired from DART in 2012 at age 53, but he did not retire from life. He currently serves as a board member and as General Counsel for numerous non-profit corporations, including service as the first General Counsel for the North Texas Chapter of InfraGard, part of a national alliance between the FBI and the private sector to help improve the security, preparedness and resiliency of America’s critical infrastructure. Additionally, Simmons serves on national, state and regional law committees, while mentoring new attorneys, law students and college students.

Simmons, his wife Tina, and father-in-law, Ramon, reside in Dallas.

— Lamar University

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