Wright was a true servant of city, country

Jim Wright speaks to visitors in his office at TCU in  2014.
Jim Wright speaks to visitors in his office at TCU in 2014. Star-Telegram archives

“He speaks for Fort Worth and he speaks for the country, and I don’t know of any city that is better represented in the Congress of the United States than Fort Worth.”

— President John F. Kennedy, Nov. 22, 1963

The man President Kennedy was speaking about, before an overflow crowd in a ballroom of Fort Worth’s Hotel Texas that November morning, was Jim Wright, who was then a formidable four-term congressman already making his mark on the House of Representatives.

Kennedy, just hours before that fateful ride past the Texas School Book Depository in downtown Dallas, declared to the more than 2,000 folks at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce-sponsored breakfast that he was “glad to be here in Jim Wright’s city.”

The president was right then, and his words prove to be true today. Fort Worth was Jim Wright’s city, not in the sense that he was some overpowering political boss, but because in his short time in office he had already become so beloved.

And Cowtown would not be Wright’s city just for the 34 years he represented it in Congress, but until his death — and, some will say, even beyond that.

Wright, who would rise from being “boy mayor” of Weatherford to become speaker of the House, died early Wednesday morning at age 92.

From his earliest days in Congress, this son of an English literature/poetry teacher and former salesman, an avid reader, was regarded as a true servant of the people, one willing to fight for those District 12 residents who considered him their friend.

He and his office staff perfected the art of constituent services, realizing almost from the beginning that people who called their congressman with a problem needed a response and must not be ignored. And even though Wright could not solve every problem, those constituents needed to know that the person representing them in Congress was concerned and was working on their behalf.

As a protege of the venerable and powerful Speaker Sam Rayburn, Wright was on a track in th e House that would put him in a position to return immeasurable benefits to his home district and the entire region.

And while “bringing home the bacon” may not be in favor with many conservatives these days, Wright’s tenure in Congress certainly yielded billions in government benefits for Tarrant County. For years, the county was one of the nation’s top recipients of federal dollars, from defense contracts to much-needed social programs.

Wright, although sometimes accused of having a temper and being a fierce debater, had a great reputation for being able to work in a bipartisan way, putting the country and the institution of the Congress above political parties.

A master orator who understood the power of words, he could communicate with people of all stations in life. His art of persuasion manifested itself throughout his political career and afterward.

Wright was highly criticized by members of the Reagan administration for interfering in foreign policy when he met with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and contra leaders in an effort to end a bloody decade-old conflict between Nicaragua and El Salvador. But he was not deterred in trying to bring peace to Central America, ultimately succeeding in that effort.

When Georgia congressman Newt Gingrich began a relentless campaign of ethics accusations against the speaker, Wright summarily dismissed them as the work of a spiteful individual.

Eventually, however, Wright was led to resign after the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct cited him for violations of House rules. It was one of his most painful moments.

But even that didn’t stop him.

He returned home to the city that loved him and continued to work and to serve.

Today Jim Wright’s city is in mourning.