John Oliver Wright, 79, Colts fullback during the team's inaugural 1947 season

June 06, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

John Oliver Wright, who played fullback for the first Baltimore Colts team of 1947 before becoming an Eastern Shore beer distributor, died May 30 of Parkinson's disease at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury. He was 79 and had lived in Salisbury since 1959.

Known as Reds Wright, he signed with the Colts in the inaugural 1947 season in the All-America Football Conference and played one season before injuring his knee. He left the game and took a job as a sales manager with the old National Brewing Company.

"He was tough and aggressive when carrying the ball," said Elmer Wingate, a business associate who watched him play while in college and played for the Colts in 1953 and 1954. "He played the old style. He didn't go around players. He went through them."

Born in Baltimore, he was reared on Auchentoroly Terrace facing Druid Hill Park. A graduate of City College, he played halfback on the school's 1937, 1938 and 1939 football teams under coach Harry Lawrence.

"Wright is City's best runner, passer and kicker," The Evening Sun reported in 1939.

His picture appeared numerous times in Baltimore newspapers, when he was regarded as one of the city's top high school players. He played a year for the University of Georgia before moving to the University of Maryland, where he scored eight touchdowns in its 1942 season.

During World War II, he served in the Army and was discharged in 1946. He returned to College Park and finished out the 1946 football season.

In 1947, he drew the attention of several professional football teams. Drafted by the National Football League's Chicago Bears and New York Giants, he signed a contract with the Colts, a team that was being formed to play at Baltimore Stadium on 33rd Street.

In 1948, after he realized his knee injury would prevent him from playing, he took a job as a sales manager for the Baltimore-based National Brewing Co. and worked in sales throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

When his superiors asked him to run a brewing operation in Michigan, he declined, and in 1959 he purchased the William R. Pease beer distributorship on the Eastern Shore. He renamed the company J. J. Wright Distributors and worked to place National Bohemian beer in Eastern Shores taverns and package good stores.In May 1996, he sold his business to F. P. Winner Limited and retired.

In 1950, he married Viola Elizabeth Kennedy. She died in 1980.

He was a member of the Colts Corral, the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

A Mass was offered Friday at St. Francis deSales Roman Catholic Church in Salisbury.

He is survived by a son, Jay William Kennedy Wright of Salisbury; a daughter, Patricia Ellen Baker of Baltimore; a brother, Gilbert Wright of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.

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