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W. Redwood Wright

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of former employee W. Redwood Wright on May 8, at his home. He was 89.

Red was born Sept. 17, 1927, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Catharine Morris and Sydney L. Wright. He had two brothers and a sister. The family lived on a farm in Glenside, just outside Philadelphia. During World War II they were host to four English children, distant cousins.

Red graduated from Germantown Friends School in spring of 1945 and started that summer at Princeton University. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in March 1946 and served as a radio operator in South Korea. He was discharged in summer 1947 and returned to Princeton that fall. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in History in 1950.

For two years, he taught at St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island, but left in 1952 to become a reporter at the Auburn (NY Citizen-Advertiser, a small daily newspaper). For two years, he wrote about all aspects of life in a small city and loved it.

In 1954, he was hired by the Providence Journal, working first in the paper’s state staff offices in Pawtucket, Newport, and Wickford, Rhode Island. Two years later he joined the city staff in Providence, as a general reporter, working nights for the morning newspaper. He became active in the Providence Newspaper Guild and was president when the Guild won a National Labor Relations Board election to represent the editorial staff.

In 1956 he and Mary Coffey were married in Jamestown, Rhode Island, where his parents and her father had retired. They lived for a while in Providence but moved back to Wickford after the birth of two daughters, Elinor Scollay Wright and Catharine Morris Wright.

In 1960, Red was hired as public information officer at WHOI and the family moved to Woods Hole, where a son, William Redwood Wright Jr., was born in 1961.

After a couple of research cruises, Red decided to change fields, resigned his job and enrolled in a Master’s degree program at the Graduate School of Oceanography at University of Rhode Island (URI). After a year of coursework, he returned to WHOI as an assistant to L. Valentine Worthington in the Department of Physical Oceanography, studying deep ocean circulation. In 1965 he received a Master’s degree from URI and went on to earn a PhD in 1970 with a thesis on sources of energy for the deep sea circulation. He then joined the scientific staff at WHOI.

In 1976, he moved to the Northeast Fisheries Center in Woods Hole, leading a group that studied the circulation on the continental shelf. Red’s research was mostly in the North Atlantic but also took him north to Greenland waters, south to Brazil and west to Japan.

In 1982, he resigned from the Fisheries and worked for a few years at Associated Scientists in Woods Hole, which he helped found, doing consulting work on coastal oceanography. He was the author of about twenty scientific papers, two oceanographic atlases (with Dr. Worthington) and chapters in several books.

Red was involved for nearly 20 years with the Bermuda Biological Station for Research, including nine years as president of the board, when that laboratory was making the transition to a year-round operation with its own research staff. He also served as trustee of the Bigelow Laboratory in Maine and the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

A lifelong Democrat, Red was elected chairman of the Falmouth Democratic Town Committee in 1984 and stayed through the presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis in 1988. He was also active in town government, spending nearly 30 years as a town meeting member and five years as chairman of the Capital Program Committee, which prioritized capital expenditures to fit the funds available.

He was board chair for the American Field Service (AFS) and Falmouth Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS) and was an early director of Neighborhood Falmouth. For many years he sang with the Falmouth Interfaith Choir (now Falmouth Chorale) and served briefly as president. He was proud to become the first man to join the Falmouth League of Women Voters; his wife signed him up while he was at sea.

In 1987 he was one of the founders of Spritsail, the journal of the Woods Hole Historical Museum, and chaired the editorial board for 10 years, contributing several articles along the way.

In 1989 Red and his wife spent 17 winters on a farm on Shaw Island in Washington state, volunteered at the library there and sang in the choir.

Red enjoyed outdoor activities with his family especially those associated with the water. He was an accomplished sailor, having crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a 40-foot ketch and competed in four races from Newport to Bermuda and one from Newport to Annapolis. For 30 years he and his family cruised local waters and the New England coast in their 31-foot classic wooden cutter Mocking Bird. He was a member of the Ocean Cruising Club, the Catboat Association, and the Woods Hole and Quissett yacht clubs.

He was married for nearly 61 years to Mary C. Wright who died in February 2017. In addition to his children, he is survived by five grandchildren, two brothers and a sister.

Memorial service to be announced at a later date.

Information for this obituary is from the Chapman, Cole & Gleason website.


W. Redwood Wright