Dr. Irene M. Wright

April 16, 1927January 10, 2019

Dr. Irene Leota Moore Wright, 91, a nationally known educator and civil-rights activist, died peacefully on January 10, 2019.

Irene Wright was born April 16, 1927, to John Dewey Moore and Frankie Mae Moore in Pineville, Kentucky. She was the second of six children and took on the responsible role of the eldest child after the early death of her sister, Augusta Mae Moore. Irene lovingly supported her siblings’ education, dreams, and families, even after she had her own family of four. But although family of all kinds came first, she also had an amazing educational and professional life.

Dr. Wright received her bachelor’s degree from Spelman College; a master’s in speech pathology and audiology from Washington University in St. Louis; and a Ph.D. in higher education from Saint Louis University. She also studied at Ball State University in Indiana, New York University, Columbia University, and Atlanta University. She went on to hold faculty positions at Atlanta University, Clark College, Spelman College, Harris Teachers College, Tuskegee Institute, Albany State College, and Saint Louis University, and she was published in the areas of speech and hearing problems, teacher programs, the trainable child, and deaf education.

Professionally, Dr. Wright worked among many leaders who were giants of the 20th century. As a public servant, champion for the voiceless, and defender of those with special needs, she captured the attention of President John F. Kennedy; his sister, Eunice Shriver; civil rights leaders in Albany, Georgia; and many other well-known activists or educators, such as Dr. Albert E. Manley.

In the early ’60s, this country faced many challenges, and we all had to make serious decisions about where we stood on critical issues. Irene fought relentlessly for anyone who’d been mistreated or ignored. President Kennedy recognized her dedicated and brilliant contributions to the field of mental health when he named her to the first White House Panel on Mental Retardation in 1961. There, she met Shriver, and together they shaped programs that countered vio-lence and discrimination against those who had intellectual disabilities or faced racial injustices.

Vice president of the Albany Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Wright was also dean of students at Al-bany State College, but she resigned in protest when she learned that students had been expelled for demonstrating against racial violence and discrimination. Many strategy meetings were held in her home, and students who’d traveled from afar to help with voter registration campaigns were always welcomed to stay. She braved the threat of physical harm as she travelled from Albany to Washington, D.C., reporting on the atrocities taking place. Irene Wright was known throughout the South and East for her active affiliation with community organizations. How fortunate for her that she lived long enough to see a different face in politics. She loved and listened to Barack Obama’s every word!!!

Dr. Wright received countless community citations throughout this country—and in Japan as well, because she continued to work when her husband, Dr. Thomas V. Wright Sr., was transferred to Okinawa as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Wherever the military took them, she found a way to address the needs of others. The School of Hope, which she founded and directed, taught children with special needs whose families were in the military. Prior to leaving Okinawa, she received the highest award presented to a civilian, the Unsung Heroine Award, for her tireless efforts in getting the school approved and supported by the Department of Defense. The School of Hope has been dedicated to her memory.

Irene Wright stood barely 5 feet tall, but her contributions to humanity were giant. She impacted thousands of students’ lives, thousands of families’ lives. She served as dean of students and academic dean at Spelman College in Atlanta, Albany State College in Georgia, and Harris-Stowe State College (now University) in Missouri. She established seven schools for those with intellectual disabilities in the South; served as a speech pathologist/audiologist and director of Education and training at Belchertown in Massachusetts; developed programs for children of parents with drug addictions; served on federal review committees, including the National Center for Law and the Handicapped at Notre Dame University and the Missouri Children’s Trust Fund. Dr. Wright also worked as consultant to the commissioner of education in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Yet if you asked Irene what her greatest professional endeavor was, you’d hear her say “mother to my children. That’s the profession that requires the greatest amount of knowledge but is at-tained with the fewest prerequisites!” Her interest in the roots of her family can be viewed through all of the research, charts and publications she left for generations as the family genealogist.

Irene Wright is survived by her “Boo” of 58 years, Dr. Thomas V. Wright Sr., and her children: Vicki Hamilton (Harold), Lynn Kennedy (Michael), Traci Wright (Thomas Wright, Jr.), and Marcia Buresch; 10 grandsons: Arthur (Angelica) and Brandon, Michael, Chad, Jon, Sam, Marcus (Sarah), James Trey (Sina), Simeon, and Brett (Betty); and five great-grandchildren: Titus, Bella, Jaz’min, Jaire, and Levi. She also leaves her only living sibling, Jean Collins, and nieces and nephews she adored: Hollie, Wilanna, Robin, Judy, Bobby, James Jr., Michael, Johnnie, Connie, Mitzy, Phillip, Frankie, Neicey, Scott, Bonnie, Albert (Katie), and all of their children. She was preceded in death by her beloved son, Thomas Victor Wright Jr.; her sisters, Augusta Mae, Louise Worthington, and Judelle Shaw; and her brother, Julian Moore.

Irene always said, “My children are confirmation that my father in heaven will say at the time of life transition, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’”

“Well done,” her family says now. “Your testimony continues to live through us all.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make donations to either Albany State University in Albany, Ga or Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.

The Celebration of Life service will be held on Wednesday, January 23 at 4 p.m. at Sandy Springs Chapel, 136 Mount Vernon Highway, Atlanta, Georgia 30328


  • Memorial Gathering Wednesday, January 23, 2019
  • Reception Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Dr. Irene M. Wright

have a memory or condolence to add?

Hollie Trigg

February 6, 2019

Dear Auntie. So much can be said about your remarkable life and accomplishments. Still I am reminded of childhood memories and our many adventures together. A specific moment in time is the night you drove through a KKK rally in the backwoods of Georgia in the early 60's. There we were surrounded by burning crosses and men dressed in hoods armed with rifles and various weapons. Without hesitation you covered your children nieces and nephews with blankets and proceeded down that dark country road like a "Boss". When noting your extraordinary qualities I can truly say you had "guts" having witnessed your daring and relentless courage that frightful night in Georgia one reminiscent of that tumultuous time in our history. With that said know we are forever grateful for the memories and your selfless efforts to spend time us as children. A life well lived you remain in our hearts always. Sleep well until Jesus comes. Your loving niece Hollie

Jon Faris

January 22, 2019

Mr. Wright, Just wanted to extend extremely warm thoughts to you, and your entire family. I have the privilege of working with one of your grandsons, James (Trey) at Enterprise, and based on the stories he has shared, as well as the way he leads his own life, it is in fact a beautiful legacy that has been establishd by you, Mrs. Wright, and the example the two of you have set over your lifetime. Please except my sincere sympathy for your loss, and I will continue to enjoy the stories that Trey tells about growing up in such a wonderful family.

Marie Wright Fields

January 18, 2019

A loving mother, wife, teacher, mentor, hard dedicated worker, leader, Doctor and committed to sharing her gifted knowledge with others. Yes, Irene, you are and will be sorely missed. We will always remember you. Rest in peace.
Lovingly, the Wright sisters of Chicago, IL.


January 14, 2019

I am truly sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. Please accept our condolences and may our prayers help comfort you, during this time. Warren, Venetta, Mikaela, Mckenzie.
The Bridges Family