A man who was born into the life of a sharecropper, then created his own successful business, was known in many ways — a civil rights advocate, a husband, a father, a mentor and a pillar of the community — but most referred to him as Uncle Joe.
Joseph ”Joe” Wright was best known in the community for being the founder and funeral director at Wright Memorial Mortuary on Broad Street in Rome. He founded the funeral home in 1971 after he served in the military during the Korean Conflict.
By speaking with his friends and family, Joe Wright — who was 87 when he passed away on Saturday — will be remembered most for his acts of service and his smile.
“We called him the energizer bunny,” laughed his sister-in-law, Ouida Sams. “He had so much energy it was ridiculous.”
She recalled a time when he was having heart troubles and ended up having to spend time in a rehabilitation center.
“He was on a treadmill. They had to make him go to the emergency room. That’s what I’ll miss most about him — his energy and his smile.”
Wright was also a founding member of the Progressive Romans Organization, a service organization that mentors young men and hands out annual scholarships. This is where current mayor of Rome, Bill Collins, cultivated a friendship with Wright.
“He was a great mentor of mine,” said Collins. “Really more like a hero. I remember when I was young, and I first watched him as a man and how he conducted himself. He just was someone you wanted to be like.”
Collins said he’s known Wright from the time he was 18 years old, and that the death felt untimely.
“I just saw him the other day,” he recalled. “I’ve got tears in my eyes right now.”
Joe Wright was born in Centre, Alabama, on Jan. 17, 1932. He worked as an orderly while in Alabama, which is a hospital attendant — and it’s where he found an interest in funeral homes.
On Aug. 24, 1957, he married Dorothy Sams, who supported his dream to go to mortuary school. They met at a basketball game at the Georgia School for the Deaf in Cave Spring. They had four children together: Phyllis, Angie, Joseph and James.
“He was everything you needed him to be,” his daughter, Angie Wright-Rheaves said. “He was everybody’s Paw-Paw, everybody’s uncle.”
Many people in the community considered him to be part of their own family.
However, Wright-Rheaves remembers him as just her dad and the foundation of the family.
“What I pray and hope for is that the foundation and his essence will stay here,” she said.
His son, Joseph Wright, said that he’s still in shock and that his father’s death feels unreal.
“Your parents are your anchor. They’re your everything,” he said, “and then one day they’re no longer here.”
The elder Wright ended up attending John A. Gupton College of Mortuary Science in Nashville, Tennessee. While he loved the business and helping people, Wright-Rheaves said he had aspirations of being a doctor.
Along with being a founding member of the Progressive Romans, he served on a number of boards and committees in the community. In fact, Joe Wright Village on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is named for the funeral director. He served on the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority for years.
“It’s just fitting for him to have a village named after him,” Collins said.
According to Wright Memorial Mortuary’s website, funeral services were incomplete Monday night. The website will be updated as services are planned.