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Judy Wright was a Claremont champion, conserver of local history

Dedicated and determined—just two of the descriptions of Claremont’s Judith Campbell Wright, a true icon of the community if there ever was one.

Ms. Wright, who died early on January 7, 2012 at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center as a result of cardiac arrest, was a giant pillar of the community in a number of areas—from volunteer to activist to civic leader and author.

Judy Wright was born on March 25, 1939 in Provo, Utah to Della Jones and Roald Faye Campbell. Her parents at the time lived in Preston, Idaho where her father was superintendent of schools. The family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah while Judy was a young girl. She attended the Stewart School which was associated with the University of Utah where her father taught. She attended Brigham Young University and the University of Utah where she graduated.

The family later moved to Columbus, Ohio and then to Chicago, Illinois where her father had become a professor. It was in Chicago that she met her future husband, Colin Wright, and received her teaching credential. She was married in 1962 and taught second grade in Evanston, Illinois. The young family, with son Campbell, subsequently moved to Evanston, Illinois where she became involved in numerous community activities. The Wright family came to Claremont in 1972 when Mr. Wright became a professor of economics at Claremont McKenna College.

Within a few weeks of coming to Claremont, Ms. Wright became a member of the League of Women Voters and developed a number of lifelong friendships. She served as president of LWV from 1975 to 1977 and was active in the Sycamore Elementary School Parent Faculty Association, including serving as its president.

Ms. Wright’s scope of activities quickly enlarged to the community as a whole as she was named to the city’s Planning Commission in 1977. She subsequently ran for a seat on the City Council where she served for 13 years, and also as mayor for 3 years from 1986 to 1989.

As a representative of Claremont, Ms. Wright was involved in many regional activities. She served as president of the Southern Division of the California League of Cities. Following her special passion for transportation issues, she served on the founding boards of both Metrolink and Foothill Transit. She was instrumental in the preservation of the Claremont Depot and the establishment of Claremont as a stop for the Metrolink train system. Most recently she helped with the planning for the eventual establishment of a Gold Line electric rail system linking Claremont to the San Gabriel Valley.

Ms. Wright was also an active and outspoken member of SCAG, Southern California Area Government for many years.

The author of 3 books on Claremont history—2 editions of Claremont Pictorial History and Claremont Women: 1887-1970: They Created a Culture; she had considered the possibility of updating the latter with a second edition.

In the community, among many activities, she was a member of the Pilgrim Place Corporation and for more than 3 decades, a loyal volunteer at the annual Pilgrim Place Festival.

Tributes to Judy Wright are, as expected, many.

Longtime friend and former mayoral colleague Diann Ring recalls 4 decades of friendship and activity.

“Judy also gave us the gift of our community’s history through her books and newspaper articles…. Many people most remember Judy’s work in historic preservation which was significant. I want people to remember that Judy also had her vision set in the future.”

Ms. Ring notes that in 1987 the City Council held a workshop on the future.

“The council envisioned a future that included the Wilderness Park, Village West, and a Depot brought back to life as a transportation hub,” Ms. Ring recalled. “And, indeed, it all happened.”

Fellow former Mayor Karen Rosenthal reflects, “Many communities don’t have Judy Wrights and her friends and colleagues to poke and prod into the city’s pasts and the histories, to help fashion historical preservation ordinances, to be on the planning commissions and City Councils to make us sit up and take notice of what was and should still be, what is worth preserving and what is not,” Ms. Rosenthal said. “There were a few others before and there will be others after Judy, but she, in my mind, has been the most outspoken and courageous leader in preserving Claremont’s architecture and history. I will miss her.”

Ms. Rosenthal also points out that contrary to some views, there were arguments along the way that were resolved in compromises for the greater good.

Ginger Elliott, who worked with and continued Ms. Wright’s work in establishing Claremont Heritage, remembers her friend as “passionate, committed and brilliant. She wasn’t trained as a historian, but she could look at the bigger picture. She could pull things together and juggle it all.”

Arlene Andrew worked with Ms. Wright and Mary Stoddard in historic preservation business.

“She encouraged me to serve on the planning commission and the general plan committee,” Ms. Andrew remembers. Ms. Andrew notes that Ms. Wright was instrumental in helping the late Leo Snowiss get the Russian Village area on to the National Registry of Historic areas. While serving as chair of the planning commission, Ms. Andrew was due to face a contentious audience on an issue. Ms. Wright, along with colleague Ms. Ring, bought her a confidence-building bright red dress to wear to the hearing. Judy, Ms. Andrew reflects, “was a woman of many hats and wore them all with great distinction.”

Mary Stoddard, who worked with Ms. Wright on graphic design for her books, and along with Ms. Andrew on the Aegis business, remembers that in addition to preservation activities, she shared with Judy their love of grandchildren and the 36-year annual tradition of making pomegranate jelly along with Ms. Rosenthal.

“We were neighbors and good friends,” Ms. Stoddard notes.

Former City Manager Glenn Southard remembers coming to Claremont while Ms. Wright was serving as mayor.

“She helped me so much by introducing my wife and me to the community. She taught me the ‘ways of Claremont.’ We did a lot of things together,”?Mr. Southard said. “And in transportations issues—nobody worked harder for transportation than Judy Wright—nobody!”

In a tribute on the Claremont Heritage website, Kristen Neff wrote for that organization, “The Claremont we have come to love and cherish might likely not exist if not for the resolve of Judy Wright. Judy’s legacy will live on through the people she has touched, the organizations she has contributed to and the cultural fabric that she has helped preserve.”

Ms. Wright is survived by her husband of almost 50 years, Colin Wright of Claremont; by her son and daughter-in-law, Campbell and Danielle Wright of Claremont; and her grandchildren, Evan, Allison, Nicholas, Sean and Danielle “Gigi.” She also leaves her sister and brother-in-law, Patricia and John Bevan of Salt Lake City, Utah; her brother, Bruce Campbell of Boise, Idaho; and her brother-in-law, Durrell Duce, husband of her late sister, Adele, of Mesa, Arizona; along with numerous nephews and nieces.

Memorial services for Ms. Wright are planned for Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 2 p.m. at Bridges Hall of Music on the Pomona College campus, Fourth Street, one block east of College Avenue.

In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be directed to Claremont Heritage, 840 N. Indian Hill Blvd, Claremont, CA 91711.

— Pat Yarborough

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