The Rev. Samuel Anthony Wright, died on June 24, 2016 at the age of 97.
Sam Jr was born on June 13, 1919 to Samuel Anthony Wright and Margaret Neilson Wright. He received a Bachelor of Science from the University of New Mexico in 1944, a Master of Divinity from Starr King School for the Ministry in 1949, as well as completing graduate work at the Pacific School of Religion and post-graduate work the University of California, Berkeley.
Rev. Wright’s ministry was a lifelong journey, one that took him all across the United States. He was ordained in 1950 by the Unitarian Church of Stockton, CA (now the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Stockton), where he was called to serve as minister from 1949 to 1952. He went on to serve as the minister to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin, CA for seven years—the longest ministry in the congregation’s history. After finding his wilderness home in Alaska, he ministered to the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Anchorage from 1970 to 1974. His travels through the ‘80s and early ‘90s led him to serve as interim minister to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Antonio, TX; to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach, CA; to the Hope Unitarian Church in Tulsa, OK; back to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin, where he was elected by the congregation as Minister Emeritus; to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, CA; and to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, CA. Finally he was called to minister to the Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists in Auburn, CA from 1994 to 1995, and served as interim minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada in Reno from 1998 to 1999.
Rev. Wright also carried out an array of denominational service work, including but not limited to the following. He was first called into service in 1952 as the Executive Director of American Unitarian Youth, Inc., and then in 1953 he became the first Executive Director of Liberal Religious Youth—an organization created by the merger of the American Unitarian Youth and the Universalist Youth Fellowship; in the context of this merger he wrote the song “We Would Be One,” now #318 in the UU hymnal. He later served on the Executive Boards of both the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association and of Starr King School for the Ministry. While at Starr King, he was the Director of In-Service Training from 1961 to 1969 and he served as Acting President from 1965 to 1966. Additionally, he held the offices of President of the Unitarian Universalist Pacific Coast Council, Regional Vice President of the Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice, President of the San Francisco Bay Area Welfare Planning Federation, and President of the Marin County Council of Community Services, CA.
Rev. Wright pursued a lifelong interest in the ecology of plants and people, which led him in the mid ‘60s to study the trees and the native communities of northern Alaska. During a sabbatical year he and his second wife, Billie, built and lived in an isolated log cabin; they named the home Koviashuvik, after the Inuit word meaning ‘time and place of joy in the present moment.’ Sam was superb at hunting and fishing, activities that his wife Donna Lee said he might have called “direct religious experience” as opposed to simple hobbies. He and Donna returned to the cabin every summer for the last 25 years to enjoy the peaceful contemplation of nature and the world. Rev. Wright authored two books about his time in the Alaskan wilderness: Edge of Tomorrow: An Arctic Year and Koviashuvik: Time and Place of Joy. He later published The Way It Was: Letters to Unborn Posterity—a collection of letters to future generations reflecting on the century in which he lived and posing questions to the next.
In Sam’s own words from Edge of Tomorrow:
The great world has set me in
Set me adrift,
and I move as a weed in
The arch of the sky
and mightiness of storms
And I am left
trembling with joy.
He is survived by his wife, Donna Lee; his four children, Patricia, Rev. Chip, Roberta, and Bill; his two step-children; his seven grandchildren; and his three great-grandchildren.
A thanks-giving for the life of Rev. Wright will be held in Alaska on September 3, 2016, as well as a memorial service in Arizona later this year.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to help maintain Rev. Wright’s Arctic wilderness home Koviashuvik and sent to Rev. Chip Wright, 1705 Sarkesian Dr., Petaluma, CA 94954.
Notes of condolence may be sent to Donna Lee, PO Box 1315, Sonoita, AZ 85637.