Thomas C. Wright|
Publisher and Philanthropist
1931 ~ 2014
Thomas C. Wright, beloved teacher, publisher of educational materials and philanthropist, passed away on March 28, 2014, in Bellevue, WA. Born to Calvin E. Wright, a lifelong public servant, and Gwendolyn (Sathre) Wright, in Rupert, ID, on August 2, 1931, he joined Bev Jo, his sister and best friend, to fulfill the family. As a young boy battling asthma, he grew fond of books, an interest that would lead to his future career. He became an avid athlete and lover of theater and politics and he enjoyed all of these, as both participant and observer, throughout his lifetime.
Even as his family moved around a lot, young "Tommy" made friends as a starting football guard, yell-team captain, and student leader. In high school, he won the "I Speak for Democracy" oratory contest and was an Idaho delegate to Boys Nation in Washington D.C. He graduated from high school at Lewiston High. When his father became Democratic nominee for Governor in 1950, he traveled the state affixing campaign posters onto trees and telephone poles high enough so they couldn't be removed or blown away by the wind. He attended the University of Idaho as an undergraduate and earned a Masters degree from the College of Education. He performed starring roles in plays, such as Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman", was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity, competed as a diver, and created a show featuring students doing original sketch comedy called "Rehearsal Time" which was broadcast "live" via closed-circuit TV in the Northwest. Before graduation, he married Beverly Alger of Twin Falls.
Following a stint in the Air Force, teaching meteorology to pilots at an air base in San Marcos, TX, Tom went on to become a popular instructor of English, Speech, Debate and Drama at Boise High School, entertaining his students with imitations of Al Jolson and Peter Lorre. While he was jovial in the classroom, and acted in plays at the Boise Little Theater, he was serious about teaching and it would soon become the heart of his mission in life.
In 1959, he took a job as sales representative for the educational publishing division of Holt, Rinehart & Winston, moving his family to Thousand Oaks, CA, where he directed plays for the Conejo Valley Players. For seven years, he spent countless hours on the road making book presentations to Catholic schools in the western United States. After much success in the parochial school market, he was promoted to Vice-President and then Publisher of Winston Press in Minneapolis, MN. During this time, he joined Toastmasters International, furthering his formidable public speaking skills, and served as parish council president at the Basilica of St. Mary. Throughout the 1960s, Tom modeled political awareness by taking his children on a post-riot tour of Watts, organizing a march for interracial harmony following Dr. King's assassination, and driving his family through Haight-Ashbury at the height of the anti-war movement, ever repeating the mantra, "Pay attention, kids. This is history." In 1975, after learning all aspects of the book business and having thoroughly acquainted himself with the needs of teachers, Tom elected to pursue a lifelong dream by leveraging the purchase of a small publishing house in San Diego, CA, where he could put his creativity, knowledge and experience into the building of his own company. By 1978, The Wright Group was established, with Tom as CEO, to develop and distribute books and supplementary materials for elementary schools. In 1985, he moved the company to Bothell, WA. Its flagship collection of illustrated readers, "The Story Box", featured memorable characters like "Mrs. Wishy-Washy", emphasizing language context rather than solely phonetics in the teaching of reading. It was soon followed by the "Sunshine" series, "Twigs" and other successful product lines generated for the K-8 market. Drawn to the colorful illustrations, the rhyme, rhythm and repetition of the stories and the "Big Books" format, teachers and students alike fell in love with Wright Group materials and training. This "whole-language" approach to reading became so popular that it was eventually used in over 200,000 classrooms across America.
When The Wright Group was acquired by the Tribune Company in 1994, Tom was asked to stay on as chairman for a time before retiring to pursue philanthropy. Returning to the University of Idaho, Tom established the Wright Fellowship, a graduate program to help teachers realize their full potential. This program has helped more than one-hundred teachers earn their master's degree. He also created the Thomas C Wright Foundation, a private, non-profit fund which contributes to many worthy causes, including the Sturge-Weber Foundation, Amara Foundation and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, among others. In 2005, Tom received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Idaho and served as commencement speaker. Above and beyond all his accomplishments in life, Thomas C. Wright was known for his kindness, wit and empathy. He was an exemplary father who was very proud of all of his children and grandchildren. He will be missed beyond all knowing.
Tom is preceded in death by: his parents Cal and Gwen and his cherished brother-in-law Barney Brunelle. He is survived by his four children Thomas L (Sandy) Wright, Dan Wright, Lisa Johnston, Kathleen Brawn, grandchildren Laura (Richard) Vines, Virginia (James) Roberts, John J Brawn, Sara Lynne Wright, Matthew James Wright and Samantha (Luis) Mesquita, great-grandchildren Wyatt and Wynnie Vines, his sister Beverly Jo Brunelle, his ex-wives Beverly A Wright, Arlene A Wright, his current wife Robin L Rothe, as well as four step-children, and many nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
A celebration of his life's journey will take place at University of Idaho's Legacy Pointe at the Idaho Water Center in Boise, ID, on Saturday, May 3, 2014.
Sign Thomas' on line
Guest Book at www.Legacy.com.
Published in The Seattle Times from Apr. 12 to Apr. 13, 2014