Saturday, April 21, 2018
News Roundup

Longtime St. Petersburg resident Betty Wright, a picture of Southern gentility, dies at 102

ST. PETERSBURG — Betty Wright moved to St. Petersburg with her husband in 1932, the same year Groucho Marx made his debut and Charles Lindbergh's son was kidnapped.

She was 23 then, had aspired to sing opera and was steeped in the Southern culture of her native Louisiana.

The new town puzzled her. It seemed to lack an appreciation for fine music and culture. She quickly made friends, only to see them move to some northern state for half a year.

Florida and Louisiana were "as different as day and night," she later said.

Mrs. Wright adapted to her changed circumstances, as she always had.

She joined numerous civic organizations and sang in public venues. She remembered names and family trees.

She and her husband planted orchids, azaleas and camellias behind their home. Sixty years later, their greenhouse still flourishes.

Mrs. Wright died July 23 at St. Anthony's Hospital. She was 102.

She wrote thousands of thank-you notes over the years, using the exacting Palmer penmanship that was taught in the early 20th century. She even wrote notes to acknowledge the thank-you others sent her.

"Let me tell you, the Post Office is going to go down even faster now, now that Betty is not here," said Tom Thomas, her son-in-law.

Betty Johnston was born in 1909 in Monroe, La. An injury at age 4 acquainted her with survival when she fell into a bonfire and spent nearly a year recovering. She later graduated from H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, then a women's affiliate of Tulane University, where she met Claude Wright, a Tulane-educated physician.

The couple moved into an old two-story home in the Woodlawn neighborhood. Mrs. Wright sang with the Carreno Club in now-defunct hotels and on the radio. She helped form the St. Anthony's Hospital Auxiliary and served as its president. She was an early member of the Stuart Society and participated for decades in the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Peter, including its choir.

Mrs. Wright cut back some of her civic activities in 1959, when her husband's heart trouble forced him to close his practice. She cared for him until his death in 1979.

"Her life was really in cycles, so many cycles," said Nancy Wright Thomas, her daughter. "And yet they all overlapped."

In her spare time, Mrs. Wright enjoyed reading religious literature and playing the baby grand piano in her living room. In 1989, Nancy and Tom Thomas moved in to care for her.

Her first breakfast in the hospital two weeks ago included a pureed French toast and sausage. Mrs. Wright enjoyed it so much, she asked for a piece of paper.

She had to write the hospital staff a thank-you note.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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