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Luke Eldridge Wright

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Luke Eldridge Wright Obituary
Luke Eldridge Wright

Memphis, TN

Luke Eldridge Wright, 92, passed away peacefully at the Veterans Administration Center of Memphis, after a long illness, on April 23, 2017. He was born Elisha Eldridge Wright on October 3, 1924, in Memphis, to Mr. and Mrs. William Folkes Wright, Sr. (Frances Hall Wright-Hughes), and later changed his name to Luke Eldridge Wright. The scion of one of the most historical families of the South, he was a gentleman of elegance and refinement, a designer sought for his sophisticated sense of classic style, and an erudite connoisseur and disseminator of all things beautiful. He was the great-great grandson of Admiral Raphael Semmes of The War Between the States, and the great-grandson of Luke Edward Wright Governor General of the Philippines, First Ambassador to Japan and Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt.

Wright attended Bellevue Elementary and, in 1940, Pentecost Garrison School for Boys, before graduating from the Webb School. He matriculated to the University of the South at Sewanee until he was enlisted in the Navy during World War II. He was trained in Morse Code at Northwestern University in Chicago, before being deployed to the Pacific on the U.S.S. LSM-207 to engage in one of the most ferocious and famous combats of the War: The Battle of Iwo Jima. Wright surged to immediate fame when he offered his combat helmet to Life Magazine photographer Joe Rosenthal to use in his iconic photograph of the Marines' raising the American flag in victory on the island of Iwo Jima. That photograph became the model for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, DC.

After World War II, Wright worked for American Express in Munich, Germany, and traveled extensively throughout Europe, Egypt, and the Middle East. He settled in France for a year, where he immersed himself in French language, French cultural life, and the arts. Here, in France, Eldridge's innate love of fine art ignited a self-directed, lifelong study of design and architecture, which gained him great respect and reputation as a peerless repository of historical design knowledge, especially classic French design.

Upon his return to Memphis in the 1950's, Wright's now-honed knowledge of architecture and passion for historic preservation propelled him to restore several historic townhouses on Jefferson Avenue in Downtown Memphis, across from the ancestral Wright home, which was demolished during twentieth-century urban renewal. One of the homes he restored is the Mollie Fontaine House. Using the recycled bricks from the original Wright home, Eldridge restored and constructed the brick walls surrounding the Wright Carriage House at the corner of Jefferson and Orleans, part of the family's original property. By purchasing and restoring 657 Adams Avenue, Wright's preservation efforts became the founding actions of what is now the Victorian Village Association. Eldridge served as President of that groundbreaking preservation society for many years.

During the late 1960's, Eldridge became the proprietor of yet another piece of Memphis history: the Frances Wright Building at 1516 Union Avenue, which was another family home, and one in which Wright had lived with his mother. During the Great Depression, his mother, Frances Wright, transformed the home into a business enterprise. It became an exclusive purveyor of ladies' couturier fashion of great renown throughout the South.

In the 1980's, Wright established an eponymous interior design company, Eldridge Wright and Associates, which he operated until the time of his death. His refined sense of style and design, along with his passion to preserve local historic architecture, has left an indelible legacy of architectural veracity and beauty in our City of Memphis. Eldridge's affable, humorous, and gracious personality, along with his elegant and polished style in dress, home, and garden, leaves an indelible appreciation by all who met and loved him, as a man who lived a uniquely civilized life. Eldridge was predeceased by his parents, and by his brother, William Folkes Wright, Jr. of Paris, France. He is survived by his cousin, Michael DeLancey Spencer Neill, of New York City. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Memphis Chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities (APTA) or the Veterans Administration of America.

Service will be at 12 noon on Friday, April 28, 2017, at the Lord's Chapel of Elmwood Cemetery, with reception and burial following.
Published in The Commercial Appeal on Apr. 26, 2017
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