Former Smyrna mayor Wright dies at 85

SMYRNA — A funeral service for George C. Wright Jr., the first African American to serve as a mayor in Delaware, will be held Saturday in Asbury United Methodist Church, Smyrna.

Mr. Wright died Thursday, Dec. 21, in Christiana Hospital. He was 85.

After three unsuccessful bids in mayoral elections in Smyrna, he won the race in 1981 by just 20 votes. He ran unopposed for the next six election cycles and stepped down in 1995.

In story that year in the Delaware State News, Mayor Wright said no one opposed him because people found they could trust him. “Even my adversaries, they might not always agree with me, but they could trust me,” he said.

His terms as mayor followed 12 years on the town council.

George C. Wright Jr.

In 1958, he made the first of four unsuccessful bids for a seat on the council.

Mayor Wright told the Delaware State News years later that he was advised at that time not to use his picture in the campaign, because there were three other George Wrights — all white — that lived in the area. If people thought he was one of them, he might get more votes, the rationale went.

He chose to ignore that advice.

“I wanted to be elected by my own skills, not because they thought I was someone else,” Mayor Wright said.

On his fifth try, in 1969, he won the seat on council.

His work as mayor led him to a role as executive director of the League of Local Governments for 23 years. He represented all 57 cities and towns in the state. Mr. Wright was just one of two Delawareans to ever be elected to the board of the National League of Cities.

He used to say his work in politics was about people.

“Part of what I’ve tried to do in my community is bring relationships closer,” he told the Delaware State News. “So people can have a better understanding that, even though we look different, we really aren’t very different.”

In 1996, the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce honored Mr. Wright with the Buchanan Award for his outstanding citizenship and service to the community.

“I truly want to be a role model for young people and I try to live a life that young people can emulate,” said Mr. Wright after receiving the award. “I try to explain to young people as I go across the country and across the state that you don’t have to come from a very established home. My mother had a fifth grade education and my father was an alcoholic — that had nothing to do with my character.”

His mother, Alice, used to say he would someday be the first black president of the United States.

In 2009 at a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Bethel AME Church, Smyrna, where he was an active member for several years, he joked that he was relieved that Barack Obama had become president and he no longer had to live up to those expectations.

“My mother was serious about it,” he said. It was motivation for him to pursue public office in Smyrna.

“I hope she likes my substitute,” Mr. Wright said of President-elect Obama. “He’s very capable.”

Mr. Wright began his first five years of education in a one-room school house in Chesapeake City, Maryland, and completed the requirements for his high school diploma in 1949.

He continued his education in Maryland and Delaware.

He was drafted into the Army in 1952 and served two years.

In 1956, his began a lengthy employment at Dover Air Force Base, starting out in Aerial Port Section of the base. He joined the Personnel Section in 1976. In 1981, Mr. Wright was named Chief of Staffing for Civilian Personnel Office’s Affirmative Employment Section. At the time of his retirement in 1989, he held the second highest position as a civilian.

Mr. Wright was a 33rd Degree Mason, joining St. John’s Lodge 7 in 1969. He was a member of Morning Star Chapter 7 Order the Eastern Star.

From 1960-1965, he volunteered and served as the Smyrna Head Start director.

In 2014, a municipal park was named in his honor in Smyrna. He was also active in raising funds for the construction of the Pitts Center in Dover.

All of his community involvement, he said, dated back to his youth in Chesapeake City and adults there kept him on a positive path.

“Everyone should be involved,” he said. “It’s important to have a feeling of an extended family within the community. When I was a kid, I helped everyone.”

Mr. Wright was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Katherine.

He is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Raymond and Brenda Guy; his children, George C. Wright III and his wife Anetia of Hickory, North Carolina, Sharon Wright of Smyrna, Lisa (Donald) Mears of Middletown, Terun Palmer of Dover, and Richard Sullivan and his wife Yvette of Smyrna; seven grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in Asbury United Methodist Church, 20 W. Mt. Vernon St., Smyrna, where friends may call two hours earlier.

There will also be visitation noon to 6 p.m. Friday at Evan W. Smith Funeral Services, 518 S. Bay Road, Dover.

Burial will be in Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Bear.

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