A Man Named James Wright by HVO

A Man Named James



In the early '60s (that's 1960s) he was probably the first true entrepreneur that many of us had ever associated with. He knew everybody in Eastland and everybody knew him, mainly because he delivered dry cleaning to so many from the family Modern Dry Cleaners on S. Seaman St. which was also  Eastland's Go and Stop time keeper. The shop always had a full head of steam and James or an employee "blew the whistle" at high noon, 1 p.m. and 5 o'clock, going home time. The town relied on James and the whistle in more ways than one.

Most of us through the years were not careful record keepers because like James, we were all too busy trying to take care of our business and our families. It was not an easy time.

He came out of Long Branch strong stock, had been taught right from wrong from at his mother Ada's knees and his Dad and maybe a peach tree limb or two, but he always had great respect for his bringing up. His dad Art was a hard working mechanic with many talents which he passed on to his son. 

Think the senior Wright had passed when we met because James' mother lived in Eastland and was a pillar at the Baptist Church, as the family had been when they lived in the country. His mother's see-after  was an other of James' many responsibilities.

Ever busy trying to make an honest dollar, James some how took up auctioneering and actually with his entire family help,  got pretty big time at it. At one time he had a "slightly used" furniture store on the square through which he disposed of unsold merchandise.

He apparently took a liking to the young, dumb editor, giving him tips, advice but most of all encouragement.

He once passed our house while I was taking a break on a front stoop and my young wife was  busy raking as we tried to get a lawn started. He yelled as he passed, "You got it right, H." His sense of humor was classic and he usually had a  new story or two.

Lo and behold one day Bruce Pipkin, a mutual friend, suggested that James who knew everybody and every thing about Eastland, be named Manager of the Chamber of Commerce -- after several abortive failures under other's guidance. It proved correct in more ways than one in Eastland; not only was James a great organizer and expediter at getting people involved with worthwhile projects, we saw it work in other areas where locals were given a chance to prove their mettle -- Lewis Tiner (a venetian blind builder-installer) was a super City Manager and his wife Helga was a great Administrator at Eastland Memorial Hospital during growing, strenuous times, to the benefit of all.

James was right in the middle of all this and more, and drug the editor right along with him -- what he didn't think of, we mutually did. It was also the bad time when we were both trying to quit smoking. We'd make progress and then a crisis of some sort would emerge and we'd puff away. He always had the coffee pot on when we called to ask if it was time. He, Wayne Bailey and the editor solved many of Eastland and the world's problems in the building on the east side of the square which James brought up to snuff with his tools, skills and money. It is named for him today, thank goodness.

He probably started the Golden Deeds Awards Chamber event with Marine Johnson-Johnson's guidance, and a hundred and one other positive projects.

On Ammerman St., just down the hill from high school there once was Wright Little League Baseball Field which James conceived  and other Volunteers cheerfully helped him put together. It was a monument to youth athletics for years. But things pass and are too often forgotten.

But men like James are not easily forgotten. He and his family went through the same traumas, disappointments, sadness, good times and bad, that most families know. Even James had his distracters. He was primarily responsible for much of the development that exists today at Lake Leon. Ever the  builder, the exploiter and the "get it done" developer, he did not endure himself to all -- mostly because of jealousy, greed and just pure-d small town meanness. Every time some of us who knew his heart, heard him called "Old James Wright," it just made our blood boil.

As a WWII Navy man he had seen, if not the world far beyond Eastland County, at least Iceland where he served. Later while doing all the things he was capable of doing, as probably the first County Veterans Affairs Officer, he also assisted litteraly hundreds and more  of G.I.s who needed help filling out forms for education, treatments and benefits. Day and night he took care of the ex-servicemen.

Suffering he knew well. The family lost a granddaughter tragically. Later he lost his longtime friend and help-mate wife, but luckily, later found a partner who loved him and would help see to his needs for the rest of his life.

He saw triumphant achievements within his family, and his children were always his pride and joy. They carry a powerful name. Big things come and go in all sizes, but those who helped put it together deserve all the "At-A-Boys" we can give them. James was a singer,  musician and a pillar in his church,  but most of all, a gentleman's gentleman.

We believe the Lord will find a special place of service and honor for James, who sure kept all of us jumping and hopping around here.

He's missed in so many ways by so many.--H V O’Brien