Who was Andrew Wright?
Andrew Graham Wright was born on 19 September 1918 in Norfolk, Virginia. He was named after his father's brother who had recently died in the Spanish Influenza epidemic earlier that same year. His middle name, Graham, came from on his mother's side from a doctor in the family that came over from Scotland in the late 1700s.
Mr. Wright came to Stafford during the summer of 1968 from Emporia, Virginia. He faced numerous leadership openings as few administrators stayed behind in Stafford when his predecessor, Howard Sullins, left for Chesterfield County. The previous superintendent had taken his best people with him, or else they had found other jobs. Mr. Wright was able to convince Carleton [Corky] Webb, a long time friend and colleague, to leave his position in Emporia, Virginia to join him in the Central Office. He also called upon Edward Drew, another good friend, to leave his position in Virginia Beach Public Schools to become the principal at the single Stafford High School.
That school was later named after Mr. Drew's son after Eddie Drew Jr. who was tragically killed at a spring dance at Gayle Middle School in 1974. When the former Stafford High was converted into a middle school, Eddie was going to be the new principal. They re-named the school after Eddie. It remains Edward Drew Jr. Middle School to this day.
The portrait that hangs in the school was a gift from Mrs. Ethel Wright, Andrew's widow. She discovered a local Philippine artist who painted the portrait from a school picture. The portrait was a surprise, unveiled at the school's re-dedication/re-naming ceremony in the Spring of 1987.
The Wright clan is steeped in education. His younger daughter, Elizabeth, taught for nine years. An older daughter, Diana, continues to teach sixth grade near Seattle, Washington. Andrew's mother Mary was an elementary teacher and two of his sisters taught as well. His older sister, Dolly, lasted only one year - she really didn't like teaching, but she married a teacher and five of her six children became teachers. His younger sister, Margaret, taught Home Economics for many years in Norfolk. A paternal aunt, Emily Wright, taught far beyond retirement age for the Norfolk School System because she evaded her superintendent’s question of when she was born. Aunt Emily had been born at home, before hospital records, and her boss could never prove she had reached retirement age. When Emily Wright died in 1984, she had 30 hours towards her doctorate in an era where the average woman never went to college, much less graduated from high school. It is clear that education was an important factor in all of their lives.
Andrew's daughter, Elizabeth used to joke that the Wrights were either ministers or teachers. She hadn't known until her father died that he had wanted to be a minister, but was talked out of the choice by his mother. The oldest Wright brother, Billy, was a minister for more than 50 years! There are famous Virginia Baptist preachers from both sides of his family, and his mother’s side were descendants of Haute Wiatt, the Anglican minister in Jamestown from 1621 to 1632. Andrew's mother must have figured that one preacher in the immediate family was enough.
Andrew Wright's father was a freight agent for Southern Railway in Norfolk. The family got to take wonderful summer trips because they were able to ride the trains either for free or "at cost." In 1933, they went to the Chicago World's Fair during the Depression. A family story goes that to keep peace amongst the five kids the rule was whoever started the fight had to shine the others' shoes. Everyone got along amazingly well. It was during that trip, when Andrew was 14 yrs old, that he kicked back somewhere on the train and thought, "What kind of job can I have that will allow me to travel during the summer like this? Aha! Teaching." Andrew’s college graduation present was a train trip that took him to the stockyards in Chicago, on to Pike’s Peak, and all the way to Alaska.
With the start of the Second World War, Andrew wanted to go into the Navy, but there was something about his teeth, specifically his bite, that excluded him from that branch of service. He thought this was a good thing, as many of those men died. They were required to wear gas masks and Mr. Wright's dental condition indicated he might not do well with such a mask. Growing up in Norfolk, the Navy had been his first choice and he was disheartened when he was turned down.
Mr. Wright signed up for the Army and he served in the Pacific. He was in a Quartermaster unit working with munitions. He earned two Bronze stars. This fact was unknown to his children until after he died and Mrs. Wright passed his Army discharge papers to daughter Elizabeth. There is little known about the remainder of his time in the Army. Unfortunately, there was a massive fire at the National Personal Records Center, located in St. Louis, in 1973. Nearly 80% of the Army personnel files were destroyed.
When Mr. Wright spoke of his World War II service, he said he didn't see any God-awful action. He mostly island-hopped and kept the Japanese from coming back to retake the turf. He was on the Solomon Islands, possibly Wake Island, and he was stationed in Japan, after the war, before being shipped back to the States. Wherever he was stationed, airplanes would come back for munitions for bombing reloads. His daughter shared that he had said that one island runway was near where sand crabs came out to mate and the planes landed and took off continuously. He remembered the runway being littered with crabs, the sounds of their little bodies being crushed by the planes' tires and the ensuing stink as the dead crustaceans rotted in the tropical heat. A final memory of the Pacific was that he also didn't like the powdered eggs and milk on the transport ships.
Prior to his passing, Mr. Wright said he didn't want to be buried in Arlington National Cemetary, that was for "real" heroes, so Quantico would do just fine. In Elizabeth's, his daughter, opinion, it was more an economic choice. He was entitled and was his wife. Elizabeth's younger sister being disabled, she has the right to be buried in the same plot. The nice thing about any military cemetery is it's always well kept, in addition to being free. Andrew Wright was not cheap, but both he and his wife - true children of the Depression - were frugal and thrifty.
Mr. Wright began his teaching career as a history teacher in Shenandoah, Virginia. He left to serve in World War II, and after the war, he returned to continue his teaching career. In 1951, he left Shenandoah and became the principal of Emporia High School, which was grades 1-12. In 1953, the community built a new high school where he was served as the first principal. After becoming a school administrator, his superintendent required administrators to work half days on Saturdays. When his son Andrew Jr. was small, he once hid in the backseat of the car to find out where his father went on Saturdays; the other kids' dads in the neighborhood stayed home. When Mr. Wright found Andy Jr. in the backseat, rather than carry him home, he put him in the gym with basketballs to keep him occupied as he worked in his office. So unlike many teachers, Andrew really didn't get his summers off, much less his Saturdays. He became Superintendent of Schools in Greensville County in 1960. In 1968, he accepted his new job in Stafford County.
Mr. Wright had a shy side, which most people rarely saw, as he had excellent people skills. He was known for picking the right people to do their jobs, then stepped back and allowed them to do their jobs. He never micromanaged.
Another seldom seen side to Andrew's personality was a sense of humor which probably got him into trouble when he was younger. Mr. Wright beat Audrey Ferrell at a church picnic in a watermelon seed spitting contest. Mrs. Ferrell was the secretary at Fredericksberg Baptist. When Elizabeth was younger the family was eating watermelon in their backyard. His daughter kept feeling zinging sensations on the back of her legs. Imagine her surprise when she discovered it was her dad, the proper school administrator, actually spitting the watermelon seeds at her.
When Andrew joined Fredericksburg Baptist, he was active as a deacon, Sunday School teacher, and he started out as an usher. One Sunday the ushers were with the minister, Howard Cates, before the service in a room where the minister would pray before the service and also assign Sunday duties. He looked at Andrew and asked, 'Andy, do you mind asking the offertory prayer?' Andrew, with his quick wit yet "stoic" face replied, "Well, if you don't hold me responsible for the receipts I will." He expected everyone to burst out laughing but no one did and the minister had a very concerned look on his face. Andrew shrugged it off and decided they'd learn about his sense of humor soon enough.
As a school teacher and administrator, he was on the cutting edge. Many things he did seemed innovative at the time, like taking the Head Start program in Stafford from a brief summer program to a year round program. He was also instrumental for creating a special needs classroom from age two and up. As a matter of fact, Andrew started a special needs classroom in rural Southside, Greensville County, Virginia BEFORE President Kennedy signed into law in October of 1963 that stated that every child had a right to an education. The class was created so his fourth child, Barbara, could attend public schools. Barbara’s class was the first class to include special needs students in the class graduation ceremonies. Today, all Stafford County High Schools utilize this inclusion model. In 1978, this was a first among the area high schools.
Andrew was frustrated that he could not get the Board of Supervisors to fund the school budget sufficiently enough to do all that he wanted to do for Special Education. Together with his wife Ethel, they decided that she, as president of the [then] Association for Retarded Children (later Retarded Citizens, now simply ARC) would sue the schools following the Civil Rights tactics of denied equal opportunity under the law. As they strategized around the evening supper table, their daughter Elizabeth didn’t realize until years later her parents were on opposite sides of the court room during the suit.
When the new Stafford High School was built in the mid-1970s and the budget needed to be trimmed, due to cost over runs, Andrew refused to remove the elevator from the building plans. How difficult it would be if someone in a wheelchair needed to access the second floor? Compare this to the American for Disabilities Act which was mandated in 1990. He also insisted on keeping the arts in the curriculum and the three year federally funded pilot program, “The Humanities Institute,” which evolved into the state Governor’s School for the Gifted.
One additional aspect of his personailty was his sense of professionalism. This is highlighted with an episode shortly before the opening of one of the high schools during his watch as superintendent. There was a scandal that someone polluted the water lines in that school, and when the health dept came back with a failed water quality test, Mr. Wright had the water pipes flushed with bleach and had the health department retest the system, possibly over the weekend, so school could start on time. It was all kept out of the news and surely thwarted, if not stymied, whoever poisoned the pipes.
Mr. Wright refused to gossip about the episode. His daughter, Elizabeth stated that "it was hard to find out what was really going on when the smoke was around. You couldn't find the fire around my dad. I remember wondering who the heck would do such a thing and why. I couldn't get my dad to squeak. I think he had his suspicions; he knew without knowing, but without proof, he did what he had to do and kept his mouth shut." This is the mark of a professional.
So, why is our school named after him? According to his daughter Elizabeth, "He was a heck of a dad, educator, and administrator. He once stated that what he didn’t like about Stafford Schools was how large the system was, that he didn’t know each teacher by name. It was a comforting surprise to see the number of teachers who came to his viewing/funeral, years after he had retired. That’s when I realized he was a darn good guy, in addition to being a terrific dad."
That should be reason enough. Yet, he had also a tremendous impact far beyond his own career. He started out as a history teacher and worked his way through the ranks to become a long-serving superintendent in Stafford County. As a result of his mentoring, about 15 colleagues that Andrew Wright had worked with ended up as school superintendents in their own right. This was a remarkable benchmark for a man whose career spanned three different school systems in Virginia. When he retired in 1986, he had been one of the longest serving superintendents in the state.
Andrew Wright passed away on February 8, 1995 and was laid to rest at Quantico National Cemetary. He was a life-long learner as well as a great father, educator, and administrator. We are honored to be known to this day as the Andrew G. Wright Tigers.