Monday, March 13, 2017

Dr. William F. Wright: Cowboy, Educator and Statesman

March 6, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Education and the World lost a good friend with the passing of William F. Wright, Sunday, February 19, 2017. He was my mentor for more than half of a lifetime. He was a friend and wonderful example to follow for all who knew him. We will all certainly miss him. He was a friend to all humanity and wished to help all. His legacy will be “what he did for others, his family and his life was filled with accomplishments that mark the path of a great man.”

Right to left are Bill Wright, Tom Kollenborn, Jay Drazinke, Gary Hunnington, and Allan Blackman.

Bill, do you remember those campfires we sat around in the Superstition Mountains my friend? We often talked about what was good and what was right. We discussed people and things. Bill’s philosophy was to spend time with people not things. Bill Wright made several trips into the mountains with me over the years. The last horse trip we made together was with his son Matt and Mr. Gallager. I don’t recall exactly when we made that last trip.

I could write a book on his accomplishments and successes as an educator. But I am going to tell a little different story about a person we enjoyed on many trips in the Superstition Wilderness Area in search of peace, solitude and tranquility. Our lives required an escape from the hectic schedules we kept and in those mountains we found that peace and solitude. We were, in a sense, living the life of a cowboy. All of you know what a “cowboy” is and many of us have known real cowboys. Bill loved horses and the open range. We talked about Floyd Stone, Billy Martin Jr., John Bacon and William Barkley and many of the old time cowboys of the Superstition Range. When Bill and I first made trips into the wilderness, cattle still roamed the mountains. Seeing and talking to a cowboy was not uncommon, it was the norm. I would talk about the old days on the U Ranch and Bill talked about his time upon on the Blue. We often reached a consensus about the cattlemen we knew. They were fine men and we enjoyed being in their company. Bill’s heart was filled with the “Cowboy Way.”

I can remember one night in particular in 1975. We were all sitting around in front of the fire place at the old Reavis Ranch, with a foot of snow on the ground outside. When Bill spoke, everyone listened to his words—they were usually filled with wisdom and sound advice about the day’s ride. Even old Bud Lane agreed with Bill’s comments. This was a side of Bill’s experience few of us expected to hear. He was a man of diverse knowledge about cowboys and horses. One of his grandchildren recently said he was “John Wayne” to them too, and I can see why. As we sat there huddled around the fireplace on a cold winter night, Bill talked about several of the brands on the fireplace mantel as if he had one day worked this country and for these brands. This was William F. Wright in a totally different environment and knowledgeable of his surroundings when it was least expected.

Here is another story about his ability to adapt to the extreme. He always taught his children, students and athletes to adapt to changing situations. He was “Coach” to many of his friends. One year, he and I flew to Chicago. He was giving a national presentation about our school district to a group of school superintendents from around the country at the legendary Palmer House Hotel. The Palmer House was cowboy country in Chicago. I set up a dissolve slide presentation for Dr. Wright to present. The presentation was set for about forty minutes. The presentation would have worked as planned, but in the middle of it, the power went off. The room became pitch black. You couldn’t see your hand in front of you. Bill Wright didn’t miss a beat and continued the presentation without the slides or any lighting. About ten minutes later the lights came back on and I advanced the projectors to the right slide—he continued without missing a beat. When he was finished, the group gave him a standing ovation. In my opinion at the time, he was the master of making a presentation under any circumstances or conditions. How he kept up with his story line amazes me to this day. This was Bill Wright, the master of the impossible. He instilled this quality in his children, his athletes and those around him. I am a far better person for having known him and was honored to call him my friend.

Editor’s note: William Frank Wright was born in Tollenson, Arizona on November 22, 1940. He Graduated from high school in Page, Arizona in 1960. He married Martha, a cheerleader at Page High School and the love of his heart in October of 1960. They had three children Julie, Matt, and Mike, twenty-three grand children and forty-eight great grand children. He played football at Phoenix College and attended Arizona State University where he earned his degree in education. He was a coach, friend and teacher to all he knew. The “Master” in the sky has his lead rope now, guiding him to a green pasture there.