Elizabeth Wright, 72, chairwoman of public housing advisory board

September 17, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Elizabeth Wright, who headed the city's public housing advisory board for 15 years, died Saturday of a heart attack at Harbor Hospital Center. She was 72 and lived in Westport.

Regarded as a calm, knowledgeable and frank advocate for the 47,000 people in Baltimore public housing sites, she was widely respected by both housing officials and fellow tenants.

A longtime resident of public housing, she was chairwoman of the Resident Advisory Board of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City until last year. She joined the panel in 1971 and was named its head in 1983.

"She was a true advocate for the tenants in public housing," said Anna Warren, who lives in the Claremont Homes off Federal Street in East Baltimore. "She led you on the right road."

Born in rural Caroline County, the former Elizabeth Chainey -- known as Betty -- was one of eight children. She moved to Baltimore when she was 2 years old. Her father, a Methodist minister who worked as a cook, died when she was a child. Mrs. Wright was raised by her godmother.

As a child, she learned the city on foot. From her home in the 2800 block of Remington Ave. she walked to the Benjamin Banneker Elementary School at Greenmount Avenue and Federal Street.

"I used to walk there every day," she said in a 1989 interview. "It was nothing for us to walk to the harbor to watch the boats. I walked to Trinity A.M.E. Church at Linden and Biddle. And we shopped at Lexington Market."

Describing her life in 1930s Baltimore, Mrs. Wright said: "Everybody had certain chores to do and you dared not do them. For extra spending money, you scrubbed steps or washed kitchens."

Mrs. Wright worked at the Western Electric Co.'s Point Breeze plant in the 1940s. In 1947, she married William Wright, a roofer, and the couple had 11 children. Mr. Wright died in 1984.

Of her children, she proudly said: "Eight attended college and, except for one, all finished high school."

Mrs. Wright was not afraid to speak out about public housing issues, approving the demolition of the city's high-rise projects while criticizing other decisions.

"She was an adviser for an untold number of residents in time of joy, challenge, despair and victory," said city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III. "She was a good friend to me, as well as a close adviser and worthy adversary when she felt that I was wrong."

In May, a city-owned day care building was renamed the Betty Wright Child Development Center.

Funeral services were held Wednesday.

Mrs. Wright is survived by her six sons, Vernon Wright, William Wright Jr., Thomas Wright, Mark Wright and Guy Wright, all of Baltimore, and Daniel Wright of Atlanta; three daughters, Pamela Myers, Patricia Wright and Carmela Long, all of Baltimore; a brother, George Chainey Jr. of Baltimore; a sister, Nancy Woodhouse of Baltimore; 19 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.

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