Constance (Connie) Emma Gray Wright passes

AmNews Staff Reports | 7/19/2018, 11:36 a.m.
Constance (Connie) Emma Gray Wright was a lifelong resident of Harlem. The second child of Lloyd Emerson Gray and Helen ...
Connie Wright

Constance (Connie) Emma Gray Wright was a lifelong resident of Harlem. The second child of Lloyd Emerson Gray and Helen Consuelo Stannard Gray, she was born at her parents’ home at 564 Lenox Ave. Her mother was a homemaker. Her father was a mail carrier by profession, but his passion was in the arts. He was a part-time actor and musician who played with Fletcher Henderson’s band and he acted in the original cast of “Porgy.”

The couple nurtured their children’s curiosity, leading them both to STEM careers. Connie excelled in school and attended the prestigious Hunter High School, graduating in 1937 at the age of 16. Her brother Raymond attended Stuyvesant High School. He later became an engineer. Connie matriculated to Hunter College, where she majored in statistics. She graduated in 1941 and went to work for John Lewis Wilson, who was the only Black architect appointed to a team of seven who were chosen to design the Harlem River Houses.

At the height of World War II in 1942, Connie left the city to work for the war effort. She joined the U.S. Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, N.J., where her statistical skills made her a true “Hidden Figure.” Her job was to decode secrets and although she was immensely proud of her contribution to the war effort, she talked little about what she did and never revealed what she uncovered. 

Connie married Bruce McMarion Wright in 1944. Bruce came home from the war that same year and resumed his education, eventually landing on the study of the law. In 1946, Connie began her career as an educator. A year later, the couple found a home and a community in the newly built Riverton Development. They were among the first families to move in.

They welcomed the birth of first child, Geoffrey, in 1948. Connie went back into the classroom after Geoff’s birth and taught grades 4 and 5 at PS 46 (now PS 28). From 1957 to 1962 she was at PS 197 teaching grades 4, 5 and 6. While raising a family and teaching full-time, Connie returned to Hunter College to earn her master’s degree in elementary education. She took time off in 1955 to welcome her second son, Keith Lawrence Thigpen Wright. Although her marriage to Bruce did not last, the couple co-parented their boys and remained friends until Bruce’s death in 2005. 

From 1962 to 1966, Connie was acting assistant principal at PS 197. She took on administrative positions in the Bronx, where she served as supervisor of mathematics. She returned to Harlem as an administrator and was named assistant principal at PS 161. She retired from that post in 1978.

Throughout her life, Connie held a passion for radio engineering. She received certificates from Princeton University and Rutgers University for her study of ultrahigh frequency techniques and communication networks.

Family friend Ken Sargent grew up in the Riverton. He described Connie’s enduring legacy in the Harlem community:

“As the assistant principal of PS 197, she played a hand in the intellectual development of an entire generation of Harlemites from this community. The former engineer was tough, fair and occasionally comical. Everyone within her orbit was touched with a sense of possibility.”

After her retirement, Connie continued to bring her innumerable talents to her community. She joined the board of the Harlem Philharmonic. She was on the vestry of St. Philip’s Church in Harlem and also served on the board of the church’s housing corporation. She was on the community advisory board of Harlem Hospital and served on the board of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Connie is pre-deceased by her parents, brother Raymond Gray and niece Helen Gray. She is survived by her sons, Judge Geoffrey Desmond Stannard Wright and former State Assemblyman Keith Lawrence Thigpen Wright (Susan); her grandchildren, K. Jared Wright and Jordan Wright; nephews Raymond Gray Jr., Jay Moss, Robert Wright and Bruce McM. Wright II; godson Gregory Abbott; her longtime friend, Frances W. Ballantyne; and many cousins and dear friends.