EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 30, 2013

William Wright personified competition, true fitness

Haverhill sprinter set an example for all to follow

Tom Vartabedian

---- — The Massachusetts Senior Games in Springfield just won’t be the same this year.

That’s because Dr. William W. Wright Jr. of Haverhill won’t be there.

Dr. Wright died May 22 at the tender age of 79. I say “tender” because he was one of those guys who you thought could live forever. He hardly acted his age.

I can see him now, pulling up to the Springfield College track with verve in his heart and dynamite in his legs.

“Ready, set, go!”

Out of the starting blocks he’d dash, burying his opponents in a cloud of dust at 100 meters.

A short time later, he’d rip off another victory in the 200 and wrap up his trifecta by blitzing the field in the 400 meters.

With three gold medals wrapped around his neck, he’d shake a few hands, and off he’d go, back to Haverhill. Simple, clean and efficient.

True, he competed against runners in his age group (75-79) but there was none finer than Billy in the state, perhaps all of New England.

Go ahead, call me a liar. I was there for most every one of his races. We had a pact going. I’d watch him trounce the sprint field and he’d cheer me on in the racquetball court if our events didn’t coincide.

In most cases, we were the only two from Haverhill to appear in the state games. The field drew hundreds from across the state bent on promoting physical fitness and camaraderie. A gold medal was the added incentive.

I never did see his trophy room but it must have looked like Emblem & Badge. Pity his devoted wife Anna Mae. She probably did the dusting.

If I didn’t see him running laps and lifting weights at the YMCA, I’d catch him running the stairs at Haverhill Stadium.

He’d start at the bottom and sprint as fast as his legs could take him — all the way to the press box. Then down and up, up and down like a turbine pumping oil.

A ritual of sprints followed on the track below.

One day, I was there as a team of Haverhill High athletes appeared.

“Who is that man?” an incredulous teen queried.

“Billy Wright,” I said. “Dr. Wright to you.”

“We could use a guy like that on our team,” came the reply.

“He’s in his 70s,” I tried explaining.

If you didn’t catch his obituary, Billy was not only a gifted athlete but a beloved educator as well.

At a time when such higher education was at a premium, especially for members of the black community, Billy Wright blazed new trails for his generation.

While working for Western Electric, he went to Salem State for his master’s degree, secured his doctorate from Boston University and did postgraduate work at Harvard.

City folks will remember him for his years spent teaching physical education at the Nettle School and the classes he taught at Northern Essex Community College.

Few were better ambassadors with the Haverhill Boys Club and the Neighborhood Youth Corps. Or with the NAACP. Had Billy ever met Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally, the respect for one another’s vigilance would have been mutual.

Much as I knew the man, I had no idea of his extensive background. I was unaware of his ties with Tufts University and the Afro-American Cultural Center.

I can only surmise that Billy’s idea of “killing” time was working it to death. Good, better, best, the man never let it rest. In the end, he wrote his own legacy — one which matched the gold in his trophy case.

It’s not the amount of years that make a difference, but how that life was lived. In Billy’s case, he did himself proud. For that he will be remembered.