Until she retired last September, Mary Wright was the chief operating officer of Fayette County Public Schools, overseeing land acquisition and construction of Lexington’s new high school, new elementary schools and several school renovations.
In retirement, she and her husband, Mike, were helping Wright’s son Andrew buy and open a family-style restaurant in Bristol, Tenn. On June 8, Mary Wright was standing on a ladder, painting the restaurant interior, when she slipped, fell and hit her head on a concrete floor. She lapsed into a coma.
Her husband said specialists from across the country were consulted in the weeks since, with Wright’s condition too precarious to transfer her. On Friday, Wright, 60, died at Bristol Regional Medical Center.
Mike Wright said his wife had looked forward to opening the restaurant, given that “food was a passion of hers.”
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“She was telling people how incredibly happy she was to get a chance to work with her son,” Wright said. “We were doing a lot of the renovations, and one of the things she loved to do was paint.”
When the restaurant eventually opened this summer, Wright said, his wife had wanted to bring underprivileged children there for dinner. She also wanted to meet with senior citizens in Bristol, to use the restaurant as a tool for good works.
“It so embodied who she was,” her husband said.
“Mary was an outstanding administrator that oversaw an unprecedented amount of growth and change in Fayette County Public Schools,” said Myron Thompson, who succeeded Wright as chief operating officer. “She was a strong and compassionate leader that implemented operational improvements and efficiencies that will serve schools and students for generations. She set a very high standard, which I’m trying to maintain. Her untimely passing has created a tremendous loss for those of us who were fortunate to have worked with her and called her a friend.”
Mike Wright said his wife worked for Fayette County Public Schools for 27 years. When she was food service director, he said, she adopted a system that allowed students to walk through the food line without having to identify themselves as receiving free or reduced-price meals.
Wright said his wife worked her way up to the chief operating officer position by learning everything she could about the school district.
Lu Young, retired chief academic officer for Fayette County Schools, said she worked three years with Wright, whom she called “a treasure in the district.” Both had top roles in the school district’s administration.
“I think about her quiet strength as a leader,” Young said. “One of my favorite things about Mary is that she had uncommon good sense, she was very practical and very frugal, and very sensitive to trying to maximize every dollar that came into the district to ensure the best for kids.”
Debbie Boian, Wright's assistant and the district's health and wellness coordinator, said Wright was a “friend, mentor and inspired me to be better than my best every day.”
“From director to bus monitor she treated everyone with dignity and respect. She was a consensus builder who was not afraid to try new approaches and managed to get buy in, even when the change was unpopular,” said Boian. “I will miss her enthusiasm the most.”
Superintendent Manny Caulk said, “Words are inadequate to express all that Mary Wright meant to our school district. A consummate professional who approached any challenge with both grace and nerves of steel, Mary had a way of improving everything she touched. Every operational area in our school district is better for having had Mary’s influence, but more profoundly, we are all better for having known her.”
Services were held Sunday in Tennessee.
In addition to her husband, Mary Wright is survived by her parents, Homer L. Hodges and Barbara Mills Hodges; her son, Andrew B. Browning; a daughter, Meredith L. Browning; a stepson, Hunter Wright; a stepdaughter, Rachel Wright Harrington; and a sister, Patti Tankersley.
Memorial contributions can be made to First United Methodist Church, 200 West High Street, Lexington, KY 40507, where Wright was a member, or a charity of your choice in Wright’s name. Wright had a particular interest in underprivileged children’s charities.