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Obituary: Professor Michael Wright

by
24 June 2022

The Rt Revd Stephen Platten writes:

BORN within the sound of the roar of St James’s Park, Michael Wright always claimed that he was a true Geordie. He was an authentic Northumbrian, but with wide horizons.

Schooled in Durham and, later, at Bearsden Academy in Glasgow, he then read law at the University of Birmingham, where he met Pamela Stothart, who would become his wife. From Birmingham, they moved to Bristol, where Michael was appointed lecturer at Bristol Polytechnic, as it was then styled; soon after, he became a senior lecturer. Thus began a distinguished career in higher education.

From Bristol, he moved in 1980 to become Head of Department at Glasgow Caledonian University, during which time their family, which then included three children, Gordon, Heather, and Duncan, lived not far from Loch Lomond. They were an adventurous pack, climbing, and playing tennis and other sports, Michael eventually qualifying as a football referee. Here, as everywhere, Michael was a community man, singing in choirs and becoming fully involved in town and village life.

After four years in Glasgow, he was appointed Assistant Principal of Edinburgh Napier University. Here he remained for some 15 years, eventually becoming Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Michael’s energies could still not be contained by this senior post, and, in 1997, he was appointed Principal of Christ Church College, Canterbury. Subsequently, he became the first Vice-Chancellor of the newly established Christ Church University, Canterbury. He was a superb choice for the post, once again, bringing to it his effortless energy and enthusiasm. This, combined with his intelligence and manifest warmth of personality, made him both a pioneer and a much admired and loved leader of this fledgling centre of study with its inescapable Anglican roots. Members of the university staff from his time would often say, “Ah, we’d have him back at any time.” Throughout his life, Michael’s unshakeable faith was an integral part of what made him such a compassionate and attractive leader.

In spite of his impeccable north-eastern pedigree, Michael took no time in embracing the history and tradition of his adopted city or the culture and character of Kent. Again, he immersed himself in so many different activities, chairing the Canterbury Festival, becoming an Hon. Lay Canon, a member of the Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral, and later, Deputy Lieutenant in the county of Kent. Alongside this, he captained Princes Golf Club, was a member of the Sandwich and District Choral Society, and of the choir of St Clement’s, Sandwich.

Michael’s talents were not confined, however, to his own domain. A member of the Council of Rochester Cathedral, he was a supporter of the Bible Reading Fellowship, and Vice-President of the Institute of Personnel and Development. For a time, he chaired the Inspections Working Group, keeping an eye on standards for training and formation in the Church of England’s theological colleges and courses. Perhaps supreme came his chairmanship of the Lambeth Conference Company, of whose board he remained a member until his tragic and accidental death on 4 June. The company provides a business base to a conference that brings together hundreds of bishops from across the Anglican Communion every ten years. Michael was appointed CBE in 2010.

One of the great sorrows for both Michael and Pamela was the loss of Gordon, their elder son, to blood cancer in 2013, while he was still in his forties. Happily, Gordon’s family have remained very close to both Pamela, and Gordon’s brother and sister and their families. Michael’s retirement to Berwick-upon-Tweed returned him to a familiar culture, although he would have been the first to say that Berwick’s particular character remained highly individual. As a good Northumbrian, however, Michael entered the scene with his usual warmth and gusto. He was only the second chair of the Berwick Literary Festival ,which he moved forward in a number of ways, establishing its regional significance. He was a member of the local literary and philosophical society, and of of a number of choirs, of the U3A, and was a former president of the Berwick Probus Club.

Michael will be celebrated and mourned by so many people with whom his life interacted. He is already much missed within his own local community

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