Alumni Spotlights

Maryliz Valli, '74: Sharing the Gift of Music

June 12, 2012 by Lisa M. McMahon, MA'09

On any given Monday, the atrium of Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, is filled with the musical stylings of several local musicians. One of those musicians is Maryliz Valli, '74.

A self-described “girl-next-door pianist,” Maryliz had played at nursing homes, restaurants, and retirement centers for several years before the Cook Hospital opportunity came along. Even so, she was reluctant to apply as a volunteer because she was “not a pro,” but with the encouragement of her husband, Isco, Maryliz went for the interview. She was hired in 2005 and became the first of what is now a large group of volunteer musicians.

“It's really nice to see people have some kind of joy and relaxation in their life during stressful times,” Maryliz says. “When I go in the children's hospital, it adds quite a lot to the atmosphere.”

In 2010, the hospital honored Maryliz for her work with the Service Excellence Helping Hands Volunteer of the Year Award, noting that her music “ ”¦ reaches out to anxious families ”¦ to comfort them.”

Music was always in her background, Maryliz notes. Her mother's family played the violin, and her father's family played both violin and piano. When she was about five years old, her parents, wanting to assist the elderly women in the neighborhood, would send her to their homes for piano lessons. She and her family would also gather at her grandparents' house every Sunday and listen to one another play music, and they played at church and civic events. Later, while she was raising her own family, Maryliz would relax by playing the piano after everyone was in bed. Maryliz has instilled an appreciation for music in her own children, as well, noting that they played violin and piano, and that her daughters also sang in choir. When the family would go on vacation, they'd bring their instruments and music and find places to entertain.

While music was her avocation, mediation was her aspiration. Her father, Gerald, was a union president and labor organizer in her hometown of Coopers Plains, N.Y. As a child, Maryliz would accompany him to mediation and negotiation sessions at the Ingersoll-Rand meetings in nearby Painted Post, N.Y. She also attended meetings of the Industrial Relations Research Association of Western New York, where she met Niagara University professors I. Wendell Hamm, Donald Goodman and Dr. Everett Ockerman.

Although Maryliz was intrigued by these meetings, she planned to become a teacher like her mother, Frances Mary. After two years studying education at another college, she realized that it was time to pursue her real passion, mediation. Remembering the three Niagara professors she had gotten to know while attending meetings with her father, Maryliz decided transfer to Niagara.

It was a decision that allowed her to obtain a life goal she had set for herself as a child: to become a mediator before she was 30 years old. In 1982, Maryliz became the first mediator with Dispute Resolution Services of Tarrant County (now DRS of North Texas), an organization that provides voluntary mediation and conciliation services to the community. She notes that she appeared as a mediator on the training films that the organization used for several years.

Maryliz left the business world to raise her family, but notes that “Niagara was a tremendous, positive influence” in her life. Today, she fills her days with a variety of activities, many of them musical. “I always find places to play, to entertain, to bring joy in life,” she says.