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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Remembering John Wright — former UF journalism dean, professor

Community remembers Wright for his kindness, leadership

During his time as dean of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications, John W. Wright II and his wife, Pam, traveled the country visiting UF alumni.

Pam, Wright’s wife of 41 years, said her husband’s motivation to help students stemmed from him valuing his role as an educator and mentor, and he empathized with students based on his own experiences as a student. Wright worked at UF for 36 years. 

“He always saw his job as students-first,” Pam said. “All the accolades would follow when necessary.” 

Wright, a former dean and professor, died Dec. 31 at 73. When his passing was announced by UF’s journalism school Jan. 2, the article circulated across the college’s social media accounts. UF faculty and alumni flooded the comments with their condolences, kind words and fond memories of Wright.

At 14, Wright began working at his father’s radio station reading the news on-air and as a DJ, Pam said. That was the beginning of a long, successful career in broadcast news. Wright would go on to work as a news and sports reporter, news director, program director, production manager, music director and DJ. 

Pam reminisced about memories of her husband that may be unknown to others such as the depths of his fondness for The Beatles, sports and his students. The couple went to Liverpool and toured to listen to The Beatles. He played football in high school and coached his son’s little league chain until his son was 15. As dean, the couple traveled around the country and visited alumni.

Wright worked in various leadership roles at UF, such as dean, executive associate dean, associate dean for graduate studies, graduate coordinator and interim department chair. He retired in 2018 and assumed a professor emeritus role, which is an honorary title given to retired professionals for the last rank of the office last held.

As dean, Wright created the Innovation News Center; improved management of the college’s media properties; spearheaded the college’s partnership with the University Athletic Association, which allowed GatorVision to move to Weimer Hall; opened the college’s research lab and AHA! CoLab and launched WUFT Noticias, the Spanish-speaking newscast. 

As director of Sports Journalism and Communications at the college, Wright worked with Ted Spiker, professor and journalism department chair, to design the sports and media specialization. 

“Part of his vision for what we did with sports was to make it as grand and big as possible,” Spiker said. “He did that with everything.”

Spiker described Wright as a champion for students and faculty and a person who thought of others. 

“He wondered what was best for our students,” Spiker said. “He always valued your ideas. He wanted to lift up as many people as possible, whether it was students, faculty, staff or anybody.”

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Mike Gillespie, a 33-year-old UF alumnus and the sports anchor at ABC Columbia in South Carolina, said he experienced the sports journalism program's beginnings, which greatly impacted his ability to hone his craft and gain industry experience.  

“I don't think the right amount of resources were put into sports, and I think John really tried to change that when I was there – he really spearheaded the effort,” Gillespie said. “I think that had a huge impact.”

Chris Peralta, a 32-year-old UF alumnus and executive producer at WESH 2 News in Orlando, Florida, describes his success as a direct result of Wright curating programs and opportunities for student success.

“I feel I had a very rewarding college experience and was able to get experience at the media properties and that 100 percent turned into valuable experiences that I was able to use to land my first job and beyond,” Peralta said. 

Beyond curriculum and industry opportunities, alumni are grateful to Wright for advocating for students. Wright’s motivation was to serve the student body, which he kept as the focus of his efforts. 

Sasha Muradali, a 38-year-old UF alumna and a creative director at Roblox, recounted how Wright assisted her in her application for a study abroad program in London. Muradali was able to gain life-changing experiences that changed the trajectory of her career path and life. 

“Going to London set up the framework for me pursuing international public relations agencies, careers, clients and the type of work I was interested in when I came back [to America],” Muradali said. 

David Ostroff, professor and chair of the media, management and technology department, notes that Wright was a leveled leader who maintained his composure even in difficult times.

“John was a very calm, steady leader,” Ostroff said. “There were difficult times, particularly when we had financial problems in 2008. But he was always calm and steady.”

Alumni remember Wright as a kind and approachable person. It was easy to interact with him because it always felt that he was on your side and an aura of warmth was around him, Gillespie said. 

Faculty who have worked closely with him attest to Wright’s kind nature as well. 

“He was a fun, good and kind person to be around. He loved people,” Spiker said. 

Wright left behind an invaluable legacy that will be felt by students and faculty for years to come. His impact on the lives of those who knew him is evident in their descriptions of him —

a kind leader who enjoyed people, strived to create the best opportunities for students and advocated for them. 

“John’s legacy is impacting students today and tomorrow because that’s the foundation [of the College of Journalism and Communications] and everything he brought into the world when he was at the University of Florida,” Muradali said. 

According to the Gainesville Sun, there will be a service held in honor of Wright Jan. 14 at 1p.m. at Plantation Hall in the Haile Village Center. Donations can be made to the Wright Innovation Internships in the College of Journalism and Communications in replacement for flowers. 

Contact Naomi at Follow her on Twitter @volcyn_.

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Naomi Volcy

Naomi Volcy is a third-year journalism major and the university general assignment reporter for The Alligator. Previously, she was an Avenue staff writer. In her spare time, she enjoys reading mangas, listening to R&B or Indie Rock and dressing up.

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