Alfred Wright, an editor and writer for this magazine since 1955 (and for Time Inc. since 1939), died unexpectedly last week at his home in Sagaponack, N.Y. His death hurt us all. Al was a good companion, a perceptive journalist and a writer of grace and clarity. By wry coincidence, a favorite of his among the many articles he did for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED over the years was the one on breeding thoroughbred horses in Southern California that begins on page 48 in this issue. As a native of Southern California who loved horse racing, he was delighted by the opportunity to do a story that combined both these lifelong interests.
He was by nature a reserved man, not much given to talking about himself, and it came as something of a surprise to some who thought they knew him well to learn that he had served for 4½ years as a Navy flier during World War II. He won the Navy Cross as a dive-bomber pilot in the South Pacific and once had his ship torpedoed from under him. In the scramble he lost the manuscript of a novel he had written in his spare time.
After the war he worked in Europe for several years as a TIME-LIFE correspondent, later covered Hollywood and was San Francisco bureau chief before joining SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. For us, he first wrote and then edited college football; later, as a full-time writer, he did memorable stories on such disparate subjects as baseball (one of the first interviews that caught Casey Stengel in full doubletalk), golf (the agonizing ordeals of Ken Venturi in the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional and of Roberto De Vicenzo in the 1968 Masters) and contemporary college life (the intellectual ferment at the Berkeley campus of the University of California in the mid-1960s).
Beyond these professional accomplishments, he was a most pleasant man to know, to talk to, simply to be with. He was a gentleman, always thoughtful, always considerate, never critical, even of those who in one way or the other might deserve his criticism. Yet he was an acute and sensitive storyteller, one who delighted in recounting the exploits of bizarre people he had known. A lady friend of his once jokingly accused him of liking only outrageous people. Al corrected her pleasantly. "I don't want everybody to be outrageous," he explained. "I just don't want everybody alike."
June 6, 1971
Wherever he went he encountered people he knew, or people who turned out to be acquaintances of people he knew. Despite his quiet manner, he inevitably became the focus of attention because of his gift for telling stories. He talked slowly and precisely and built his anecdotes carefully, filling them with observant and trenchant detail. Time and again admiring listeners told him, "You've got to put all this in a book," and Al would nod and agree and say he was going to do that—sometime between assignments.
The time never came. As a practicing journalist he never found the opportunity, which is our loss. Our permanent gain, though, is the memory of a charming and thoroughly decent man, one we greatly miss.