Wright makes $1 million estate gift to the College of Optometry

November 6, 2012

When Dr. Robert L. Wright, Jr., decided to pursue optometry in the late `50s, he had to ‘go north’ to do so as the southern schools of Optometry would not admit African Americans.

“I was inspired by my parents who were very hardworking people,” said Dr. Wright. “My dad was a bricklayer and mom a nurse. They instilled in our family the value of hard work and determination.”

Upon arriving at Ohio State, he found that his primary and secondary education from segregated southern schools had not prepared him academically for college. With perseverance and resolve, he overcame his initial academic shortcomings to become in 1960 the second African American to earn his Doctor of Optometry degree from Ohio State.

“But for Ohio State I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” said Dr. Wright. “Ohio State laid the foundation for the success I have had in my life and gave me a quality education. My parents used to tell us ‘To whom much is given, much is required’ and I want to support the institution that gave me the foundation for my life through a quality education."

True to his upbringing, Dr. Wright supported his parents’ ideals through the years by giving to scholarships for economically disadvantaged students as well as financial and personal support to other university initiatives. Dr. Wright recently made an additional $1 million estate gift to the College of Optometry.

And Dr. Wright is no stranger to achievement himself. After practicing optometry in Ohio and later in Georgia, he became politically active, involved in the civil rights struggle, and served for many years as a city councilman in Columbus, Georgia.

Dr. Wright eventually came to the attention of then President Ronald Reagan, who appointed him to the U.S. Small Business Administration in Washington. After serving that agency for two years, Dr. Wright set off on a new course; he started his own technology-based company, Dimensions International, Inc., which evolved into a highly successful multinational firm based in Washington, D.C. He later sold Dimensions to Honeywell.

“Education is the key and I have been blessed with success,” said Dr. Wright, who also intends to honor his late wife, June, through the gift. “I am still giving thought to how that is going to be used, but I want it to be a befitting honor to a great woman.”

Dr. Wright also credits Ohio State President Dr. E. Gordon Gee for getting Ohio State into what he sees as a strong position worthy of investment. “I thank Dr. Gee for his leadership,” he said. “I have been inspired by the direction he is taking our university and the message that our mission is to make Ohio State as successful as it can be for the students we serve.”

Dr. Wright is a director of The Ohio State University Foundation Board and The Ohio State University Capital Campaign Steering Committee; director emeritus on the Aflac Board of Directors; and past chairman of the Aflac Audit Committee, where he also served on the Executive and Compensation Committees. He presently serves as member and vice chairman on the Board of Trustees for the Morehouse School of Medicine, member of The Horatio Alger Association Board of Directors, and is former chairman of the Presidential Commission for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also served as member on the Executive Leadership Cabinet for the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation in Washington, DC.

Dr. Wright continues to live and work in Columbus, Georgia, and Washington, DC, and enjoys spending time with his son, daughter, and two granddaughters.