Remembering Former Faculty Member Ruth Wright

A Randolph legend, Wright died last December at the age of 97.
Former Randolph faculty member Ruth Evans Wright, 97, died Friday, December 16, 2016, at Magnolia Manor on St. Simons Island in Georgia. A native of Elkmont, Ala., she was not only beloved by her large and extended family, but by the thousands of students she mentored over the course of her 40-year teaching career, spent at The Lovett School in Atlanta and at Randolph, where her presence in the English and Social Studies departments was the stuff of legend from 1964 until 1984. She is especially remembered for the more than 25 student group trips to Europe she led over the years.

"Mrs. Wright was a special part of my life, and I have never forgotten her," says Melissa Saxton ’74. "She was my 6th grade history teacher at Randolph, and I was jealous that she was not my homeroom teacher.

"I was a member of the 1974 charter class, the first class to graduate from Randolph’s Upper School, and I went on one of her legendary trips when I was 16, a trip that included a private audience with Pope Paul at his summer home outside of Rome. In another memorable, though far less pleasant adventure during the trip, we were walking down the Spanish Steps in Rome when a street thief knocked Mrs. Wright down and ran off with her purse. We spent the rest of the day at the American Embassy getting her a new passport. She never missed a beat, though, and never got her feathers ruffled, explaining that such sad inconveniences were just a part of traveling."

"She was a wonderful teacher," remembers William Kennedy ’86, "my English and Social Studies teacher in 5th and 6th grades, and I thought she was tough, honest, and wonderful. Even at the time, young as I was, I felt lucky to have her.

"It's interesting to reflect on what specific memories you keep," Kennedy muses. "With Mrs. Wright, two things come to mind immediately.

"The first: She had a deep passion and understanding of European history and culture. Even though I never went on one of her legendary trips, I've always thought that part of my love for travel and my desire to understand what's out there in our great wide world is due to her influence.

"The second: She taught me that when you say or write a number in English, the word 'and' implies a decimal point. So 'one million and a half' is REALLY 1,000,000.5, not 1,500,000. The ONLY time you should say 'and' when saying or writing a number is when you MEAN to imply a decimal point. This really made sense to me, and I hear journalists (and lots of other people) get it wrong all of the time and it drives me crazy. But to this day, every time I hear someone make this mistake, I think of Mrs. Wright, so it's not all bad. In tribute to Mrs. Wright, PLEASE stop saying 'and' in the middle of numbers, unless you mean 'decimal point.'"

Colleagues also remember her fondly and vividly. "I worked with Ruth from 1975 until her retirement in 1984," says Lower School Librarian Kim Simpson. "She was more than a teacher for her students and many of the School’s young teachers. She was a great mentor, both so professional and inspiring, and a very classy lady."

Polytime Costes, long retired now in Athens, Greece, was Randolph’s Art Department Chair for many years and remembers Wright as both an extraordinary teacher and an intrepid leader of trips to Europe, something that Costes herself would come to be known for. "Hers is one of those faculty names that comes up very often," she says. "She fell in love with Randolph and melded with its culture, eventually helping to define its culture. When you think of Randolph and think of certain teachers, some just stand out, and Ruth is definitely one of those.

"She was a tiny person, always with a twinkle in her eye and a big smile. Always very excited about what she was teaching. She made everything come alive. And she loved it all passionately, loved it and lived it. She would get the kids so motivated. They all cared so much about her. Their parents, too, I think, thought their kids were privileged to have her.

"As for her famous trips, well, she invited me to go and help lead what I think was the last Randolph trip to Europe she led, an enormous group of 60 students and parents, two busloads full. It lasted for 24 days, starting in London and ending with a cruise in the Greek islands. I’ve never seen anyone who loved travel more. She wanted to go everywhere, and she seemed to know everything about everywhere we went. She was a leader. She knew what she wanted and had the experience to know what was possible, so she didn’t put up with anything. In fact, I learned that from her. I don’t put up with anything, either! She had a handle on everything. She wanted everything done right, and she wanted to do it herself. Which is ok, because I’m that way now, too."

Wright’s son, Don, now also a longtime resident of St. Simons Island, has treasured memories of the woman he called Ruth, as both a parent and a teacher. "Ruth and my father spent most of their young adult years in Atlanta, where she had her first 20-year-long teaching career at the Lovett School. I am a member of its Class of 1964 and experienced my mother as a classroom teacher. She was incredibly versatile, a fabulous science teacher, the best math teacher I ever had, the best ancient history teacher I ever had. Whatever the subject, she had complete mastery of it. She was one of the few teachers I ever had who commanded her students’ attention at all times. Their eyes would never leave her. She wouldn’t allow it. She’d point a finger at you and say, ‘Wait a minute. What are you doing? What are you thinking about?’ And she was such a mentor beyond being a teacher, interested in helping to cultivate whatever most interested each child.

"She and my father retired in 1964 to Elkmont, Ala., Ruth’s home town. They lived in a big ole house out in the country. Lovett’s headmaster put a bug in the ear of Randolph’s headmaster, who talked Ruth into doing some substitute teaching, and before you knew it, she’d fallen in love with Randolph and ended up teaching another twenty years. She had a second full career there, and became one of the key people there, as she had been at Lovett. Got involved with many of the families there, with the church she and my father went to, with the whole community, living as they did out in Jones Valley. I can’t tell you how many heartfelt tributes to her I’ve gotten from former students who heard the news of her passing, even though she hadn’t stepped into a classroom in more than 30 years."

Near the end of the 1984 edition of Acclivity, Randolph’s yearbook, you’ll find a farewell tribute to Ruth Wright. It reads:
"Mrs. Ruth Wright has been a major part of Randolph School since 1964. Needless to say, this very special lady will be sorely missed after her retirement at the end of this year.

"Mrs. Wright has been a vital part of both the Lower and Upper Schools of Randolph, for she taught humanities to high school students in addition to her sixth grade social studies classes. Mrs. Wright is known at Randolph for the special zing she fires her classes with to inspire many students with deep interest in the social sciences. She has traveled extensively, and her students enjoy the fruit of her experience both in the classroom and abroad during the many Interim trips she has sponsored.

"But Mrs. Wright possesses a quality even more treasured than these. She has a very real, deep interest in the people of Randolph School. Her love for Randolph, her work, and her students is shown most clearly by two simple things: the fact that she has devotedly worked at Randolph for twenty years, and the cheerful, loving smile she has for everyone at Randolph each day."

Wright held a master's degree from the prestigious Peabody College for Teachers, now a part of Vanderbilt University, and she served as an American Airlines flight attendant during the early years of World War II (1942-1944) before returning to her beloved teaching.

She was a longtime resident of Atlanta and her much-loved St. Simons Island, where she was an active member of Christ Episcopal Church and a member of The Daughters of the King. A lifelong avid reader, she is remembered by many as a member of a number of book clubs on the Island.

She was predeceased by her husband of 68 years, Luther ("Lew") E. Wright and her daughter, Beverly Wright Nemanic, her parents Jesse and Claudia Evans, and her brothers, Joseph T. Evans and Jesse P. Evans, Jr. Survivors include her son and daughter-in-law, Don and Joy Wright of St. Simons Island, Ga., her brother, Jimmy Evans (Eve) of Charleston, S.C., her sister-in-law, Barbara Evans of Elkmont, Ala.; four grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews and their families.

A celebration of life service was held on December 28, 2016, at Christ Church Frederica on St. Simons Island. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Hospice of the Golden Isles, 1692 Glynco Parkway, Brunswick, Ga. 31525.