Community Mourning Loss of Nationally Recognized Educator, Civil Rights Activist Dr. Irene Leota Moore Wright
Services for Grandmother of KAI CEO Michael Kennedy, Jr. Scheduled for Jan. 23

The community is mourning the death of nationally recognized educator and civil rights activist Dr. Irene Leota Moore Wright -- mother-in-law of KAI Founder Michael Kennedy, Sr. and grandmother of KAI CEO Michael Kennedy, Jr. -- who passed away on Jan. 10 at age 91. A Celebration of Life Service honoring her is scheduled for Jan. 23 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Wright barely stood 5 feet tall, but her contributions to humanity were giant, touching the lives of thousands of students and families throughout her life and career. When asked to describe her greatest accomplishment, family said she would always reply, “Mother to my children. That’s the profession that requires the greatest amount of knowledge but is attained with the fewest prerequisites.”

Although family of any kind always came first, she was also quite accomplished in her amazing educational and professional life.

Dr. Wright fought relentlessly for anyone who had been mistreated or ignored and worked with many nationally recognized leaders such as President John F. Kennedy and his sister Eunice Shriver, civil rights leaders in Georgia and well-known activists and educators such as Dr. Albert E. Manley throughout her career as a public servant, champion for the voiceless and defender of those with special needs.  

In 1961, President Kennedy recognized her dedication and contributions to the field of mental health when he named her to the first White House Panel on Mental Retardation. While serving on the panel, she met Shriver and together they shaped programs that countered violence and discrimination against those who had intellectual disabilities or faced racial injustices. 

Dr. Wright enjoyed a long, successful career in education, having earned a bachelor’s degree from Spelman College in Atlanta; a master’s degree in speech pathology and audiology from Washington University in St. Louis; and a Ph. D. in higher education from Saint Louis University. She also studied at Ball State University, New York University, Columbia University and Atlanta University.

She went on to hold faculty positions at Atlanta University, Clark College, Spelman College, Harris Teachers College, Tuskegee Institute, Albany State College and Saint Louis University and was published in the areas of speech and hearing problems, teacher programs, the trainable child and deaf education.

She served as vice president of the Albany Civil Rights Movement and was the Dean of Students at Albany State College but resigned in protest when she learned that students had been expelled for demonstrating against racial violence and discrimination. She held strategy meetings in her home for out-of-town students who wanted to help with voter registration campaigns and braved threat of physical harm as she travelled from Albany to Washington, D.C. to report on racial injustices taking place around her.

She went on to establish seven schools for those with intellectual disabilities in the South; served as a speech pathologist/audiologist and Director of Education and Training at Belchertown in Massachusetts; developed programs for children of parents with drug addictions; served on federal review committees, including the National Center for Law and the Handicapped at Notre Dame University and the Missouri Children’s Trust Fund; and worked as a consultant to the Commissioner of Education in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. 

Dr. Wright received countless community citations throughout the United States and Japan as well. She continued to work when her husband Dr. Thomas V. Wright Sr. was transferred to Okinawa as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Wherever the military took them, she found a way to address the needs of others. The School of Hope, which she founded and directed, taught children with special needs whose families were in the military. Prior to leaving Okinawa, she received the highest award presented to a civilian, the Unsung Heroine Award, for her tireless efforts in getting the school approved and supported by the Department of Defense. The School of Hope has been dedicated to her memory.

Irene Wright is survived by her “Boo” of 58 years, Dr. Thomas V. Wright Sr., and her children: Vicki Hamilton (Harold), Lynn Kennedy (Michael), Traci Wright (Thomas Wright, Jr.), and Marcia Buresch; 10 grandsons: Arthur (Angelica) and Brandon, Michael, Chad, Jon, Sam, Marcus (Sarah), James Trey (Sina), Simeon, and Brett (Betty); and five great-grandchildren: Titus, Bella, Jaz’min, Jaire, and Levi. She also leaves her only living sibling, Jean Collins, and nieces and nephews she adored: Hollie, Wilanna, Robin, Judy, Bobby, James Jr., Michael, Johnnie, Connie, Mitzy, Phillip, Frankie, Neicey, Scott, Bonnie, Albert (Katie), and all of their children. She was preceded in death by her beloved son, Thomas Victor Wright Jr.; her sisters, Augusta Mae, Louise Worthington, and Judelle Shaw; and her brother, Julian Moore.

Michael Kennedy, Jr. attributes his grandmother’s influence on KAI’s commitment to giving back and supporting the community.

“My grandmother is the reason why I am so involved with improving the lives of others, particularly minorities, and supporting the community around us,” he said. “She has always been my role model. Her platform for giving back was the best foundation for what I do and who I am today.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to either Albany State University in Albany, Georgia or Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.