Jim Wright, 56th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, said that many years ago, he read in his old King James Bible a scripture taken from the Sermon on the Mount. “As best I remember, it said: ‘Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.’ I recall thinking at the time significant it was that the scripture did not say ‘Let your light so shine that others may see you performing good works and glorify you as one heck of a great guy.’ The purpose of good works, in other words, is not to get bragged on.”
On May 13, Wright, 91, was named Fort Worth’s outstanding citizen for 2013 at the Exchange Club’s 85th annual Golden Deeds Award banquet at the Fort Worth Club.
And he was bragged on.
“If I’m honest with you,” he said to the gathering that evening, “I guess I’m going to have to let you in on a little personal confession: Being bragged on . . . I like it! I eat it up! But if I’m really honest, I have to say, ‘I need to be thanking you, not the other way around.’”
Wright’s two successors as representatives of the 12th Congressional District – Democrat Pete Geren and Republican Kay Granger – were the key speakers. Fort Worth attorney Dee Kelly, a long-time friend of the former speaker, served as emcee.
Geren, who also served as U.S. Army Secretary and is now president and CEO of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, said, “Over the decades, this club has honored many members of the ‘Greatest Generation.’ So few remain with us today, but their legacy shapes our today . . . our every day. It was a generation that triumphed over every obstacle put in its path, meeting its match only in the war of attrition waged by Father Time,” he said. “Jim Wright was a standard-bearer of the Greatest Generation.”
Wright was born in Fort Worth, a city he represented in Congress from 1955 through 1989. After serving in the Army Air Corps, he was elected to the Texas Legislature at 23. At 26, he became the youngest mayor in Texas when voters chose him to head their city government in Weatherford, his boyhood home.
Wright was elected to Congress at 31, serving 18 consecutive terms. He authored major legislation in the fields of foreign affairs, economic development, water conservation, education and energy. He received worldwide recognition for his efforts to bring peace to Central America.
Under Wright’s leadership over the historic 100th Congress, he helped fashion the beginnings of an effective war on drugs and assisted in the legislation of the first major trade bill in 50 years. Landmark legislation was passed during that session on shelter for the homeless, safer highways and bridges, affordable housing, clean water, catastrophic medical assistance for the elderly and clean water.
He served under eight American presidents. Wright served 10 years as Majority Leader before being sworn in as Speaker on January 6, 1987. He was re-elected as Speaker in January, 1989.
Geren says he can think of nothing that reveals Wright’s character with more clarity than his choice of work after Congress. “He could have chosen to stay in Washington and make a fortune as a consultant,” Geren said. “Instead, he chose to move back to Fort Worth and write and teach at TCU. The former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives chose to teach school. For those looking to understand the heart of Jim Wright, that says it all.”
Wright inspired hundreds of young people by teaching a class on Congress and the presidents at Texas Christian University from 1991 until 2010. “Teaching is rejuvenating, and I just hope the students enjoyed it half as much as I did,” Wright said.
“It’s truly remarkable to think that all of these changes to our city and developments to Fort Worth happened during Jim Wright’s time in office,” Granger said.
“And, for every one of the defense contracts secured, federal buildings constructed, airports and roads built, it took community support and strong leadership by people like Jim Wright to make it all possible. If there was anyone ever worthy enough of our sincere gratitude and appreciation for a lifetime of service to Fort Worth, it’s certainly Speaker Jim Wright.”
Wright said that he has three wishes for the nation: “For greater political kindness, respect and understanding among our public practitioners, for a nationwide pool of greater educational attainment in the coming generations, and for a more concentrated effort to preserve and protect this precious planet Earth . . . may seem utopian and humanly unattainable. Perhaps they even may be. But we must keep working to make them more and more nearly attainable.”
Dee Kelly quoted Albert Einstein in describing Wright: “‘Always try to become a person of value.’ Jim Wright has always been a person of value. These past gold deeds winners represent the same high quality of leadership as their predecessors.” Kelly said. “Jim is exactly the same as he was when he was in Congress, except that he is a little older. He is still personable, bright and energetic. He is also one of 53 people in American history to hold the office of U.S. House Speaker and the third Texan to ever hold that high position.”