The last time I spoke with Tim Wright, he was offering me help on a column on the then-proposed Route 92, a piece that involved the Revolutionary War and Kingston.
While he didn’t have a lot to add to my piece, he helped direct me toward a number of resources that helped.
That was how he was. I had graduated more than 25 years earlier (1980), but anytime I called or emailed, he got back to me immediately and did what he could to help. And I would stop in to see him when I could, which I am now ashamed to say was not often enough.
Wright, who taught at for 38 years until his retirement in 2010, . Jim Zinsmeister, a teacher at the high school, sent word yesterday and Fred Cerequas, one of Wright’s closest friends, posted information about the arrangements to Facebook Friday morning. Both remembered him as a great teacher and a great friend.
“Mr. Wright was a consummate educator and would certainly rank amongst the most erudite, charismatic and popular teachers ever associated with the high school,” Zinsmeister wrote me in an email. “He was very well-read and possessed a wealth of information in numerous subject areas. His passion for acquiring knowledge and educating young people with it was obvious and intense. He was professorial in demeanor without being pompous. He was a philosopher in the truest sense.”
Cerequas—known as Mr. C—travelled Western Europe in 1987 with Wright, visiting the battle sites of both world wars. They shared a passion for tennis—Wright served as head coach of both the boys and girls teams at the high school for years and Mr. C spent time as his assistant—and made time to play during their trip on the “red clay courts at the foot of Jung Frau in Switzerland.”
“As a friend and colleague, Tim personified loyalty, integrity and honor,” Mr. C said. “He was always a bastion of reason in an often crazy world. He will be sorely missed by his family, friends and former students.”
This is not hyperbole, as far as I am concerned. Wright was one of those teachers on which all teachers should model themselves. He was generous with students and found a way to impart his own passionate interest in his subject matter to those of us sitting in the classroom.
I had him first for Ancient and Medievel History during my freshman year, which would have been his fourth or fifth year at the high school, and then for psychology senior year. Psychology, it was obvious, was his passion and I think I picked up more about the discipline during that class than during either of the college-level psych courses I took several years later.
Rob Stolzer, a friend and classmate of mine who now teaches art at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, has specific memories of our time in his class.
“He was one who always made us think,” he told me in a Facebook message. “In Psychology, for instance, I remember him talking about the need to display brand names on our clothing, basically giving companies not only free advertising, but paying for the right to advertise for them for free. I still talk about that today, and have almost no clothing that advertises a product because of it.”
Another friend, Fred Douglis, who was salutatorian of our class, also cites Wright as an influence.
“He was incredibly enthusiastic about his teaching, and a real friend to the students,” Fred wrote in an email. “Even though I was more of a math/science geek than into the humanities, he made social studies fun. In fact it was from working with teachers like him that I decided to balance the math/science side of my studies and go to a liberal arts university, for which I’ve always been grateful.”
Others felt the same way. Marc Rubenstein, a 1991 graduate who owns his own physical therapy business in Kendall Park, passed along his own thoughts, and comments from 1988 graduate William Wang.
“As a teacher, I'll remember him as an intelligent, kind man who gave great advice,” Rubenstein writes. “As a tennis coach, I'll remember how he motivated each player in different ways to perform above your ability level and how he taught us to be a student of the game. Rest in peace coach.”
Wang added that Wright was a huge influence on his life.
“Every so often you cross paths with someone who influences the way you think,” he wrote. “For me Tim Wright was such a person both as a teacher and as a tennis coach. Therein lies the immortality of a great teacher.”
Zinsmeister agrees—and he points to his late brother Richard as an example. Richard, he said, chose to become a psychologist “as a direct result of having had Mr. Wright as his Intro to Psychology teacher.”
“My brother was so captivated and inspired by the course that the direction of his professional life was set before he even graduated from high school,” he said. “When I told Mr. Wright after my brother's death how influential he'd been, he said he was both heartened and humbled. He said that, since it was uncommon to learn that someone had been influenced in any way at all by his teaching, it was therefore enormously gratifying to learn that one had.”
Mr. C is not surprised at how Wright’s students remembered him.”
”No kid ever failed Tim's class because the teacher had given up on him,” Cerequas—known as Mr. C—said via Facebook. “He was always there for his students, and they knew it. He had very high expectations combined with nearly limitless patience.”
For me, those qualities stand out. I was not the best student in high school. Too often, I slacked off and failed to study, but Wright would not let me do that in his classes and I succeeded. His commitment not just to teaching but to imparting in us a curiosity about learning has served me well over the years, as a college student, as a journalist, an editor, a poet and a teacher at Middlesex County College. I don’t know that I ever told him that. I wish I had.