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Dr. Gary Wright passes

University of North Carolina-Pembroke music profesor Dr. Gary K. Wright, 62, died in the early morning hours of August 20, 2010. Dr. Wright led the University’s choral groups since his arrival in 1996. A Facebook support page quickly attracted 500 friends from as far away as California, where he taught in public schools. Gary Wright He was remembered by his colleagues and friends:

“Many of you know that Gary was fearless,” said Dr. Timothy Altman, Music Department chair. “He pushed me to do things that I did not think were possible. Without him, I doubt our UNCP ensembles would have performed at the Music Educators Conference twice in the last five years.  “There was nothing too big for his students or his colleagues,” Dr. Altman continued. “Gary never hesitated to take on huge projects.  “He is loved dearly by thousands of music students and teachers,” he said. “I learned so much from him and continue to grow from knowing him.” 

Valerie Austin occupied the office next to Dr. Wright’s.  “There were days on which I would hear excited chatter from the next-door office, and a few moments later Gary would hurry excitedly into my office and tell me with pride that he had just heard from a former student,” Austin said.  “Gary was a giant of all that is best in humanity,” she continued. “He truly gave of himself and influenced others in an always-cheerful, positive way.  “He had a passion for music and a passion for teaching, and he truly changed lives for the better,” Austin said. “Gary lived better than a good life, he lived a great life.  “Let us all take the marvelous lessons we learned from Gary and pay them forward,” she said.

Dr. Wright taught public school choir in California for 24 years before coming to UNCP. He received three degrees from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.: Bachelor of Music in music education, Master of Arts in music history, and Doctor of Education in music education in 1996.  Dr. Wright was the director of the UNCP Choir and coordinator of Music Education. He directed the Pembroke Singers and taught various music education classes.

Musical outreach was also a part of Dr. Wright’s work, and many young students and their families knew him.  “Not only UNCP, but the entire county will miss him,” said Susan Evans. “His work with the county choirs program earned the love of students.  “I know this because I am one of the moms from across the area,” Evans said. “He made their competitions fun and exciting for them, and he will be greatly missed.”

Outreach for Dr. Wright extended to Scotland County as well. He lived in Wagram and served as the director of the Chancel Choir at Laurinburg Presbyterian Church for many years.  He directed more than 40 musicals and 30 honor choirs. Since his arrival at UNCP, the Pembroke Singers have been invited to perform at the North Carolina Music Educators Association conference twice and at the state’s American Choral Directors Association fall conference.

In 2006 the Pembroke Singers were invited to perform at the new Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, where they presented a program of primarily American Indian choral music.  He was a regular adjudicator for music festivals on the East Coast. Choirs under his direction have toured Japan, China, New Zealand, Australia, St. Thomas and Scotland.

Dr. Gary Kenneth Wright was born in Monroe Mich., on Jan. 10, 1948. He lived most of his life in Stockton, Calif., where he was the choral director at Lincoln High School for 25 years.

He is survived by his wife, Kathryn Dahl Wright; his three children, Tamara Spurgeon of Fresno, Calif., Torin Wright of Seven Lakes, N.C., and Timon Wright of San Francisco, Calif.; his father, Kenneth Wright of Southern Pines, N.C.; his brother, Steven Wright of Pacifica, Calif.; and five grandchildren, Trevor Spurgeon, Keegan Spurgeon, Sutton Spurgeon, Samara Wright, and Tylor Wright.