Arts Advocates: Mary Gilly & John Graham

  • Mary Gilly & John Graham


Q&A with Mary Gilly & John Graham

Mary Gilly and her husband, John Graham, professors emeriti of marketing, are passionate about theater and the dramatic arts. They have been loyal supporters of the New Swan Shakespeare Festival since its founding in 2012. They became charter members of the Claire Trevor Society in 2019 and now serve on the society’s leadership committee. In addition to decades of academic service to UCI, the couple provide philanthropic support to the Paul Merage School of Business, the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

How did your interest in theater begin?

MG: Growing up in Dallas, I would go to the State Fair every year and see the musical in the music hall. I was also in choir, but I really preferred being in the audience.

JG: And the first time she came out to visit me in Los Angeles, we had tickets to see Evita. And then there’s Mary’s whole stage mom thing.

Stage mom thing?

MG: Eli [Simon, director of the New Swan Shakespeare Festival] is a neighbor, and we see each other walking our dogs. We have this ridiculously big furry black dog, Rally, and Eli said for years that if we ever do The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Rally would be perfect for the role of Crab. So our dog appeared in 26 performances at the New Swan in 2019, and I was a stage mom every night. I took him to rehearsals and enjoyed seeing “behind the curtain.” He was very successful, and one night when he wasn’t in the curtain call, the crowd started chanting “Dog! Dog!”

How have arts at UCI and in Orange County changed since you came to UCI in the early 1980s?

MG: It was frustrating when we first moved, because we went to LA to see musical theater, but you’d get out at 11 p.m., and then you have to take the freeway home. When Segerstrom Center for the Arts opened, that was a life changer, and we got season tickets to the Broadway series from day one.  When our kids were little, that was our date night with other adults. When the kids got older, we took them, too, and they got hooked. We’ve seen the quality of UCI productions improve over the years, and we like to hear about the students who graduate and end up on Broadway.

Why do you think it’s important for faculty to support the university philanthropically and the arts, in particular?

MG: When you take a position at the University of California, you’re making a statement of the importance of high-quality public education and the social mobility it offers to California residents and others. To me, donating is just an extension of that. I see the impact the university has on people’s lives and the community.

JG: In marketing, which is our subject area, creativity and imagination are essential. We know from studies that arts stimulate creativity and imagination. So on a campus where we’re trying to create knowledge, everybody – all faculty, and the business community – should be supporting the arts.

Why is it important to you to support the New Swan Shakespeare Festival?

MG: It’s just such a unique asset of UCI. Having this small, intimate, outdoor theater is so special and watching creative takes on Shakespeare under the stars is wonderful. It attracts both the campus community and people from off campus.

JG: Shakespeare was the innovator in telling stories, and that’s so important culturally and in business and politics – everybody’s trying to get their stories straight. Shakespeare really teaches you about that very important aspect of life.

To learn more about ways to support CTSA, contact Sarah Strozza, Senior Director of Development, at 949-824-0629 or

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CONNECT - Summer 2022

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