Gilbert George Wright |

Gilbert George Wright

A memorial Mass and celebration of life will take place April 1 for Gilbert George Wright, who died from complications of Parkinson’s disease Feb. 20, 2006, at Lake Tahoe, surrounded by his wife and children.

Gil was born Aug. 22, 1926. A graduate of St. Raphael Grammar School and St. Mary’s College High School, he interrupted his education to serve in the Army Air Corps during War II. At war’s end he attended Santa Clara University before entering the Franciscan Seminary. Upon leaving the seminary he worked for a short time for the state of California and the county of Marin. Gil and Colleen were married in January 1956, after which he continued his education at Notre Dame University, where he received a master’s degree in English literature. After teaching at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., he went on to receive a Ph.D. in medieval English from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, where he taught for several years. In 1966, while doing research in England and the continent on certain scriptural commentaries of the Middle Ages, funded by grants from the American Philosophical Society and the American Council of Learned Societies, he attended a performance of “Romeo and Juliet” danced by Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev. Gil was profoundly affected by this experience and subsequently he and Colleen endowed a scholarship at The Royal Ballet School, becoming the first non-British citizens to do so.

Upon returning to central Illinois, Gil continued to teach and became intensely involved in efforts to promote the arts throughout the Midwest. He served as the associate director of the university’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, was the founder and chairman of the Illinois Foundation for the Dance, and served on the Board of Governing Trustees of American Ballet Theater. He was appointed by Gov. Dan Walker to the Illinois Arts Council, served on various advisory committees for the National Endowment for the Arts and was the founder and president of the National Academy of Arts, an accredited boarding school for aspiring dancers and musicians. The academy flourished for several years. Many of its graduates achieved prominence with major dance companies and orchestras throughout this country and abroad. Others achieved similar success in a number of related and non-related fields such as law and medicine.

In 1978 the Wrights relocated to Marla Bay, Nev., where Gil began another career as a real estate appraiser. He earned an MAI designation from the Appraisal Institute and became a partner in Johnson-Wright & Associates, with offices in Reno and Lake Tahoe. He specialized in appraising environmentally sensitive land in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

When Gil was diagnosed with Parkinson’s’ in 1993 he retired from Johnson-Wright and he and his wife traveled extensively for the next several years, including many excursions to Alaska, Canada and 50 national parks. Gil’s passion for learning and keen interest in life kept him immersed in various projects and topics until his death. Among them were stamp collecting, World War II airplanes, the history of Christianity, geology and classic films. His indomitable spirit kept him engaged, alert and positive in spite of his debilitating illness. He was a remarkable man, father and husband, who has a significant impact on many lives.

He is survived by his wife, Colleen; children, Mary (Richard) Santi of Seattle, Wash., John (Karen) Wright of Sparks, Nev., Joseph (Lisa) Wright of Walnut Creek, Calif., James Wright of Walnut Creek, Rebecca (Darren) Chrisman of Reno, Nev.; brother, Sheldon Wright of Marin County, Calif.; sister, Ann Hubbard of Sacramento, Calif.; 11 grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews, cousins and godchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, Sheldon Bailey Wright Sr. and Helen Freitas Wright Tichnor. He was the oldest surviving grandson of Marin County pioneers, Manuel T. and Maria B. Freitas, and spent many years recreating, and later working, at the Freitas “Home Ranch” in present day Terra Linda, Calif.

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A memorial Mass and celebration of life will begin at 11 a.m. April 1 at Mission San Rafael Arcangel in San Rafael, Calif.

A self-described “mediocre student,” Gil’s lifelong passion for education was sparked by Sister Cecile, a Dominican nun who was his eighth-grade teacher at St. Raphael. Gils’s wife and children have endowed the Sister Cecile Burns Memorial Fund to assist the library at St. Raphael. The family requests in lieu of flowers donations be sent to St. Raphael School – Library Fund, 1104 Fifth Ave., San Rafael, CA 94901 or the American Parkinson Disease Association, Inc., 1250 Hylan Blvd., Suite 4B, Staten Island, N.Y. 01305 or to a charity of the donor’s choice.