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Archive for Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Colleagues, friends mourn death of former KU professor

July 11, 2001

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"He's one of those people I can point to and say 'He changed my life,'" Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett said Tuesday. "I'll always remember him for being larger than life. He was very social, he loved to sing at parties."

McCluskey-Fawcett is KU's interim dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Wright, 68, was killed in a two-vehicle accident Monday in Minnesota.

According to the Minnesota State Patrol, Wright's Subaru Outback wagon crossed the center line about 1:30 p.m. on Highway 18 about 9 miles west of Brainerd, Minn.

Wright's vehicle collided head-on with a pickup truck driven by 48-year-old Ellsworth Hines of Brainerd. Hines and Wright both were pronounced dead at the scene.

Paul Jefferson, 41, of Lawrence, was a passenger in Wright's vehicle. He was treated and released. Jefferson was a former Wright student and a friend. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.

Hines' wife, Ruth, 46, remains hospitalized at St. Joseph Medical Center in Brainerd, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The Minnesota State Patrol said it was still investigating why Wright's vehicle crossed the center line.

Wright taught at KU from 1968 to 1996. He and his wife, Aletha Huston, founded the Center for Research on the Influences of Television on Children in 1976. The couple owned a summer home near Brainerd.

"John's work at the center is of national and international stature. It was truly groundbreaking," said Mabel Rice, director of the Child Language Program at KU and a colleague of Wright's.

"John applied the same qualities to his scholarship that he exhibited in life. He was very creative, very enthusiastic, and very inclusive. He loved to discuss differing points of view ... then he'd throw his arm around whoever held the opposing viewpoint and take them out for a cup of coffee."

In 1996, Wright and Huston moved the Center for Research on the Influences of Television on Children to the University of Texas in Austin.

"When they left, it was a huge loss for KU," said Wayne Sailor, a special education professor. "John and his wife were both brilliant child psychologists."

In a recent interview with the Journal-World, Wright had said he planned to make a special trip to Lawrence for an Aug. 2-5 reunion of campus activists from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Wright was instrumental in organizing a 1969 protest of ROTC graduation ceremonies.

Huston on Tuesday was on her way to Minnesota and could not be reached for comment. Funeral arrangements were pending.

-- Staff writer Dave Ranney can be reached at 832-7222.

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