Big John Wright Exerted Huge Impact On Court, City
BY DAVE SHEA
John Pilcher Wright passed away peacefully in his home in Henderson, Nevada, on March 17, 2021.
But for those who knew John Pilcher Wright in Ogdensburg where he went to high school in the early 1950's he was Big John Wright.
He was born in Nyack Hospital (Nyack, NY) on September 30, 1933, to Martha and John Wright, Sr. and was raised in Hackensack, NJ, through his grade school years with his sisters, Dolores and LeVita, where he was widely known in the neighborhood as “Sonny.”
He spent his high school years in Ogdensburg where he lived with the family of Dr. Sam and Gertrude Pettit who were close friends with his father.
He was a standout basketball player at Ogdensburg Free Academy under Coach Alton W. Slim Elliott, leading the team to 15-1 championship seasons in 1951 and 1952 as the league’s leading scorer and with a pair of “First Team All-Northern” selections. He had a big impact on Northern League Basketball leading OFA to a 15-1 record in 1951.
In 1951 OFA won the Playoff Finals 48-41 over Massena 41 for a 17-1 Overall record and Wright earned First Team All-Northern and was the leading scorer in the league with 356 points. He also finished finished 3rd in Van Dusen High Jump that year.
In 1952 he led OFA to another 15-1 regular season championship and the Blue Devils forged a 26 game win streak - a league record at the time. Big John scored 49 points against Massena on Feb. 26, 1952 which set a league record at that time. The 49 points stood as a Single Game Scoring record at OFA until 2015 when Kinnon LaRose tallied 51 points.
OFA finished with a 16-2 overall record and Wright scored a league record 398 points and was selected as the only unanimous First Team All-Northern selection and earned a Basketball Scholarship to Canisius College.
His 398 points stood as single season record OFA until Tom DuPre scored 473 as a junior in the 1975-6 season. The late John Wright scored 591 points as senior in the 1986-7 and Kinnon LaRose took the record well over 600 points as a senior in 2015.
Big John Wright was He was inducted into the inaugural class of the O.F.A.-St. Mary's Hall of Fame in September 2018. along with his coach, Slim Elliott.
A fierce competitor on the court he was a gentle giant among his high school friends and members of the community. He treated his friends and adults with respect at all times.
In nominating Wright for the Hall of Fame lifetime friend Rick Badlam commented on his court presence.
"John could move up and down the court with ease and even led a break. He never seemed to lose sight of the ball. He was also in great physical shape. You could say he was somewhat unique to opposing players with his heighth," said Badlam.
"He made a smiler out of Slim which was not an easy thing to do."
After high school, John attended Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, where he continued his basketball career under head coach Bob McKinnon.
After college, he enlisted in the Army and was stationed at the Pentagon as an electronics specialist. On September 31, 1962, John married Elizabeth B. Monnet of Ogdensburg (died 2018) and settled in Hackensack.
A few years later, they moved to Leonia, NJ, where they lived together for more than 30 years.
The couple had two children, Leah and Doug. Leah is developmentally disabled, and the couple were devoted to her care and well-being, retaining vigilant guardianship and visiting her regularly at her residences in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They raised Doug in the idyllic Leonia and sent him to Syracuse University.
Professionally, John spent 30 plus years working at Tempcon Hillburn Par Corporation in Suffern, NY, a company that reconditioned oil heater pumps and controls.
With his hard work and dedication, he went on to become a co-owner of the company with partner Ed Cimmino.
He worked briefly as a salesman after closing Tempcon and retired in 1996.
John was a member of the Suffern Rotary Club and served as its president in 1992.
He was an avid golfer, playing courses and tournaments in New Jersey, Queensbury, NY and the Carolinas. He scored two ‘hole-in-ones’—one during “the best round of his life,” the other out of the blue for good measure.
He was a New Jersey Nets season ticket holder for several years in the 80s, having secured great seats from his old coach Bob McKinnon, who at this time was the team’s assistant coach. He also became an avid Yankee fan in the 80s and was a regular at the stadium.
Over the years, John kept his close ties with those he met in his grade school in Hackensack and teenage years in Ogdensburg.
With these friends he would go on many trips and golf outings. He also deeply appreciated the friends he made over the course of his career in the oil heating business through his company and in the years after as a salesman.
In 1997, John relocated to Las Vegas, and then to Henderson, NV, in 2005, where he bought a house with his companion, Kathleen Manafi.
In Vegas, he enjoyed travel, going to countless shows, particularly Tony Bennett and Danny Ganz, and eating at great restaurants.
He also loved playing video poker and once hit for $35,000 at the Rio. He gained and maintained a network of friends and acquaintances in the Vegas area that he valued very much. He was a friendly fixture on his street with neighbors and dog walkers as he sat in the driveway to get some sun.
By all accounts, he attained and embraced a life he could not have dreamed of as a kid that he made possible by hard work and a positive, no-excuse attitude. He was an exceptional father who taught by example.
A good man that was loved by many, he is survived by his loving and devoted companion of 16 years, Kathleen; his daughter, Leah; son, Douglas; daughter-in-law, Tristan; and grandkids, Holiday and Maile.
Those wishing to make a donation in remembrance of John can do so to the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC.
NOTE: Information was taken from Big John Wright's obituary which appeared in North Country Now.