Lefty Wright's Final Words

"Lefty” Ralph Eugene Wright

Lefty Eugene Wright was a teacher and coach at St. Louis Park High School.  He died last week at age 79.  Perhaps you recall Lefty, or even had him as a teacher or coach.  If you attended any of our Athletic Hall of Fame Dinner/Induction Ceremonies, when our "boys" from the Class of '58 were inducted, Lefty was there.  Here's his picture from the 50s:

At the age of 79 Lefty Wright, who was a teacher and coach at Park Hi, passed away on October 12, 2015.  Lefty — also known to some as “Gene” —was born on December 12, 1935 in Sterling Rock Falls, Illinois.  He was preceded in death by his beloved grandson, Theodore Wright and his brother, Jerry.  He is survived by his wife Nan, his high school sweetheart and best “bud” for 64 years; daughter Debbie Norgaarden (Jed); and son Todd (Andra Palmer); grandchildren Cole, Sarah and Paige; brother Robert (Marian) and sister-in-law Bev; and many other treasured family members and friends.


Lefty was passionate about his family and friends, St. Louis Park Schools, the Minnesota State High School League, the University of Minnesota Cross-Country and Track & Field events, playing tennis and golf, biking, road trips and family dinners.  His life will be celebrated and memories shared in a service of remembrance with reception to follow at 10 AM on Saturday, October 31st at the Wayzata Community Church, 125 East Wayzata Boulevard in Wayzata.  In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to the Wayzata Community Church or donor’s choice.


A note from Greg Utecht, Officials’ Coordinator for the University of Minnesota...


Several of us received the news [of Lefty’s death] early Tuesday morning as we were setting up courses for high school cross country meets under cloudy skies and cool temperatures. As the morning continued and we carefully chose where to put pennant lines and cones, unwrapped our previously and carefully folded pennants and looped them onto stakes with the Lefty loop, measured and painted perfect starting boxes for athletes and cleared all the loose leaves away...the clouds disappeared, the sun came out, the skies warmed, and we knew Lefty had approved of our set-up and organization of the day.

Many of us knew him personally and worked closely with him. Many of us only knew him by name and reputation. All of us knew him by the things we did as officials in Minnesota for TF and CC. Processes, procedures, protocols, and, the important one -- athlete-centered attitudes -- find their way back somehow to Lefty Wright and his persistent leadership in making these sports such great and fair experiences for all involved.

As we continue this season and move into track in a few months, Lefty will always be with us and his spirit will continue to define the high quality of officiating in these sports that Minnesota is known for.  I know I join you in mourning the loss of his physical presence but are glad he is free of the suffering he so stoically endured the past few years. He always did it the Wright Way!


And here’s a note from Lefty’s wife, Nan,…shown here with Lefty in a recent picture:

As many of you know by now, I lost my best friend and ‘soul mate’ this week.  My dear Lefty died on Monday, October 12th, from the cancer he has been battling since 2014.


He said to me last week that he wanted to write the last ‘Lefty update’… but he didn’t get the chance to put it into writing.  I’m sure it was neatly organized in his head though.  That is the way he would prepare speeches— thinking about it awhile, all in his head, organizing it the way he wanted before he would put it to paper.


However, I found on his desk this week some notes and references to the “Tuesdays with Morrie” books that made a huge impact on him over the past few years.  So, from what I have gathered together here is his letter to all of you.  As you read it, keep in mind his profession was a ‘teacher’:


Dear Friends and Family,


“The idea of quitting never occurred to me.  Do I wither up and disappear, or do I make the best of my time left?  Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do.  Accept the past as past, without denying it or discarding it.  Learn to forgive yourself and to forgive others.  Don’t assume that it’s too late to get involved.  So, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, I decided to live… or at least try to live, the way I want, with dignity, with courage, with humor and with composure.  I get up some mornings have a good cry, then I go live a good day!  Learn how to live and you’ll know to die; learn how to die, and you’ll know how to live.


Dying is only ONE thing to be sad over.  Living unhappily is something else.   We are teaching the wrong things.  And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.  Create your own.  I may be dying, but I am surrounded by loving, caring souls.  How many people can say that? The culture doesn’t encourage you to think about such things until you’re about to die.


The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to the community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.  Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.  We are too involved in materialistic things, and they don’t satisfy us.  The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.  There is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn’t the family.  If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from family, you don’t have much at all.  Love is so supremely important.  


I had to ask myself, ‘am I going to withdraw, and give up on the world because it’s been so horrible to me now, or am I going to live?'  I decided I was going to live.  Grieving is an important part of living because experiencing loss is inevitable for everyone.  I let myself experience the grief, the sadness, the anger, the regret, and the sense of finishing before my time.  I let the tears flow, then I started to think about what I’m crying about.  I’m crying about my own death, my departure from people I love, the sense of unfinished business and of leaving this beautiful world.  Crying has helped me gradually come to accept the end— the fact that ALL living things must die.


After I wept and grieved for my physical losses, I learned to cherish the functions and the life I had left.  You should find out who you were meant to be and get in touch with an inner longing or a sense of yourself in terms of what your potential is and what you could become.  If you discover this, try to achieve it— whatever it is.” 



Papa Lefty