Residents in West Valley City and local politicians are remembering Mayor Gearld Wright as a lifetime educator and consensus -builder who believed in celebrating diversity and who oversaw major development in Utah's second largest city.
Wright suffered a massive stroke Wednesday and died Thursday night at LDS Hospital. He was 69.
Wright had been West Valley City's mayor for 8 1/2 years and was serving his third term. During his tenure as mayor, the E Center, Hale Centre Theatre, Rocky Mountain Raceway, the West Valley City Family Fitness Center and the Accord Ice Center were built. Wright also pushed for the proposed multicultural center in the city.
Wright served as an at-large city councilman for six years and the chairman of the city's building authority for six years.
Yet with all of his accomplishments within city government, his wife, Lila, said that family and church came before his civic duties. Along with his wife, he is also survived by his children Jeri Lynn, Alan, Lori, Daryl and Merlin, their spouses and 19 grandchildren, all of whom live in West Valley City. He was proceeded in death by his 3-year-old son Craig.
"He loved all of the people Polynesians, Hispanics, Asians that lived in our community," his wife said. "He was a great champion of West Valley."
After graduating from Brigham Young University and serving in the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War, Wright taught history, government and social studies at local junior high and high schools for 30 years. He was named Kennedy Junior High Teacher of the Year in 1977-1978. He retired from teaching in 1987.
City Manager John Patterson was always impressed with how many students Wright remembered decades after teaching them.
Wright was deeply spiritual. "This man understood the purpose of life and why he was here. Therefore, the decisions he made were within those references," Patterson said.
Wright was sensitive to all perspectives and was a consensus-builder, Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi said. He also loved the diversity of his city and was "a favorite" of the Asian-Pacific community.
"He was very concerned about the homeless and quite involved," Horiuchi said. "He was a good representative of working men and women, which is the characteristic of West Valley, an area that is everyday Utahns."
"We've lost a wonderful man and a wonderful mayor," said Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley City, who also spoke of Wright's compassion. "His vision and stewardship as mayor took West Valley City to its next step."
Funeral plans have not been finalized, but services will probably be early next week.
City Councilman Russ Brooks, who will replace Wright as the acting mayor, was camping in the Unita Mountains and could not be reached for comment.