Bertha Wright, the last of her family to live at Lexington's iconic Calumet Farm, dies at 94

Bertha Wright
Bertha Wright Herald-Leader

Bertha Cochran Wright, a member of the family that made Lexington's Calumet Farm world-famous and the last Wright to live at the Versailles Road farm, died Thursday morning at her Lexington home.

She was 94.

She was the widow of Warren Wright Jr., whose parents, Warren and Lucille Wright, owned Calumet during most of its glory days in Thoroughbred racing.

Calumet produced eight Kentucky Derby winners, two of whom won the Triple Crown: Whirlaway in 1941 and Citation in 1948.

Mrs. Wright lived at Calumet twice over the years and watched it grow to become, for a while, perhaps the world's most famous horse farm. But she also saw its fortunes collapse later.

"She was never this untouchable aristocratic person; she was very down-to-earth," Mrs. Wright's daughter Courtenay Lancaster said. "She loved Calumet; she loved Lexington; she loved life."

Lancaster said her mother gave of herself in many ways, doing volunteer and charity work and offering financial help to those who needed it.

"She cared a lot about people. She worked with a lot of churches and gave to a lot of churches. She gave houses to people.

"When she first came to Lexington in the 1940s, she worked with the women's club collecting clothing for children. She did the women's club follies, and when they had a chorus line, she was the one on the end who would be off-time, kind of as a comedy thing."

After her husband's death in 1978, Mrs. Wright inherited his interest in the Wright family estate.

But she was forced to leave Calumet and move to a rented apartment after the farm fell into serious financial problems and waves of lawsuits in the early 1990s.

Calumet ultimately was sold at auction to cover debts.

Former Keeneland chairman Ted Bassett said Mrs. Wright strongly backed efforts to have Calumet's many racing trophies preserved and moved to the Kentucky Horse Park so they could be seen by the public. The trophies remain there at the International Museum of the Horse.

"She was an extremely kind, courteous and friendly person who felt a real responsibility as a citizen of this community," Bassett said.

Mrs. Wright opened the main house at Calumet for visits and generously supported numerous charities, he said.

Calumet began as a Lexington trotting horse farm. William Monroe Wright, who launched Calumet Baking Powder, bought the place in 1924, moved his Standardbred operation there, and renamed it Calumet Farm.

His son, Warren Wright, later shifted Calumet into Thoroughbred racing and set the farm on the course to greatness.

Warren and Lucille Wright's only child, Warren Wright Jr., met Bertha Cochran, a native of Alexandria, Va., in the 1940s when she was working for John L. Lewis, the volatile president of the United Mine Workers. They married in 1943 and moved to Lexington to live at Calumet.

Mrs. Wright recalled it as an idyllic time. When she moved back to Calumet in the 1980s she told people she was "deliriously happy."

But a decade later, she had to leave the farm once and for all after it was crippled by crumbling finances, coupled with the death of Alydar, one of its most famous horses. Mrs. Wright's personal possessions, including furniture, glassware and art work, ultimately were sold at auction.

"It's just sad," she said in a 1991 interview.

She referred to herself then as "the last of the four": herself and Warren Wright Jr., and Warren and Lucille Wright Sr.

Mrs. Wright is survived by four children, Courtenay Lancaster, Lucille Drinkwater, Warren Wright III and Thomas C. Wright.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Apostles Anglican Church in Lexington, followed by burial in Lexington Cemetery. Visitation will be 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Milward-North Broadway.