Semper Fi, Judge Wright: County bids farewell to three-term leader
By LPR Staff
Woodrow Wilson once said, “Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise.”
In his role as Caldwell County Judge, many might say H.T. Wright not only exemplified Wilson’s thought, but personified it. Wright, 84, was known not only locally but across the state for his “crusty” attitude, and a steadf
ast dedication to “the folks in Caldwell County.”
Wright passed away last Wednesday after a battle with lymphoma, but after spending nearly 12 years as Caldwell County Judge, leaves behind him a legacy of not only loving family and friends, but decisions that will impact Caldwell County for the good of the future.
“When you have the kind of history he had, and do the kind of work he did, it’s hard to just stop that,” Oscar Fogle said of Wright this week. “And after he retired and he and Joyce moved [back to Lockhart from the Houston area], he really thought he could do some good.”
That desire to do good led Wright to run for Caldwell County Judge, replacing Rebecca Hawener in 1998.
Though he had decided not to run for a fourth term prior to receiving his cancer diagnosis last year, Wright’s work during three terms will impact not only the way Caldwell County residents live, but the way Caldwell County is viewed on a regional level.
“Everyone that I have spoken to [since Wright’s passing] knew and respected him,” Fogle, who serves on the GBRA Board of Directors, said. “They all have a story about something H.T. did or said, standing up for Caldwell County and making sure we were recognized and considered in the grand scheme of things in Central Texas.”
Most notably, Fogle said, Wright was instrumental in brokering a deal with the Texas Department of Transportation regarding the purchase of right-of-way for construction of State Highway 130. Traditionally in such construction projects, the county where the construction was taking place is responsible for purchasing the right-of-way from property owners – an experience that would have cost Caldwell County taxpayers upwards of $11 million.
“He knew we just couldn’t do that, as a county,” Fogle said. “He knew the money wasn’t there. So he called Rick Perry’s office and made an appointment, and went to Austin and sat down with Perry until they worked out a deal.”
That deal amounted to the transfer of responsibility of FM 3158 in rural Caldwell County. The county took responsibility of road maintenance from TxDOT in exchange for TxDOT’s financing the right of way.
“That’s something that ‘just anyone’ couldn’t have managed,” Fogle said. “That happened because of H.T., because of who he was and the connections he’d made over the years, and the fact that he was able to go sit down with the Governor and say, ‘we just can’t do this, so let’s figure out what options we have,’ and then not let go until a solution was reached.”
Wright was no stranger to steadfastness, duty and dedication.
As a child, Wright lived with his family in the Rockne area, while his father worked at a “camp” for the Humble Corporation, which later became Exxon. It was in that “camp” that Wright and Fogle, 14 years his junior, met, as their fathers were colleagues with Humble.
During summers, Wright, took his turn, working with Humble at his father’s side, until his high school graduation called him to Texas A&M University and later, duty led him to enlist in the Marine Corps to serve during World War II, solidifying Wright’s two proudest positions: as a Marine, and as an Aggie.
Wright served in the Corps from June 20, 1944 – Aug. 24, 1946, and after his service was complete, returned home to Texas to graduate from university and, in August 1947, marry his lifelong sweetheart, Lockhart resident Betty Joyce Shomette. He also returned to work for Humble, eventually working his way up from “roustabout” to the director of the international corporation’s legal department.
“He was never afraid to get his hands dirty, and that was the way the company was back then,” Fogle, who also retired from Exxon, said. “You started either in the fields as a roughneck, or as a roustabout. And you stayed in that position, doing the field work, pulling pipe or whatever they asked you to do, until the crew chief said ‘this boy’s going to make a hand.’ And then, you got moved into the offices or wherever you were going to be the most successful.”
For Wright, that success would come first in the personnel division, where he instituted a ratings system that classified every employee within each job title, from the “number one” to the “number last,” Fogle said. That plan earned him the recognition of the company’s general counsel.
“He got the call, and general counsel asked to meet with him,” Fogle said. “They said they wanted him to head up the law department.”
Wright, himself not an attorney, was skeptical about the offer, Fogle said, until the general counsel said the last person that needed to supervise an office full of lawyers was another lawyer.
Wright took the job, and eventually retired from that position in 1982.
“After you retire, especially when you have that kind of position, you are kind of at a loss,” Fogle said. “And when your wife has a life that she’s built and things she does, there’s only a certain amount of having her husband around, under foot and in her hair, before she just has to say ‘go find something to do.’”
As it turns out, that moment came for the Wrights after they had decided to leave Houston and return to Caldwell County, where the family had continued to maintain ranch property in Lytton Springs and accumulated other assets. “He did well for himself,” Fogle said. “They did well for themselves, and he just decided, I think, that he wanted to come back and do for Caldwell County, which was always so dear to his heart.”
“Doing for Caldwell County,” is exactly what the Wrights did. In addition to his service as County Judge – arguably the longest service in the position in Caldwell County history – Wright, along with his sons, founded Garage Door Services, which operates in Houston, Oklahoma City and Central Texas and supports a vast array of charities, including the Lockhart High School Top 10 Scholarship fund and the Special Olympics.
“He was a Marine, he was always a Marine,” Fogle said. “And an old oil man. A lot of what people saw, that crusty exterior and that personality that sometimes seemed…. He left that all on the front steps whenever he was with [his family, particularly his grandchildren].”
Politically, as a leader, Wright did often offer people the chance to see his softer side. However, it was always there, Fogle said, and occasionally presented itself in even the most serious of situations.
“When he swore me in [as a GBRA Director], I asked for him to do that,” Fogle said. “That’s normally done by a state official, at a board meeting. But I wanted to have H.T. do that, and it was the right thing.”
During the swearing-in, Wright offered the oath using not Fogle’s given name, but a childhood nickname. Laughing, Fogle said at the moment, he wanted to respond in kind with Wright’s childhood nickname, but thought the better of it.
“Rather than taking that shot at him, I figured we needed to just get through it.”
Wright’s wit, Fogle said, was often held at bay in Wright’s attempts to solidify his place as a strong leader.
“When you have that many personalities and that many issues that you have to guide…It takes a certain amount of ego to do that,” Fogle said. “And H.T. had that. He had enough ego to be strong enough not to bend to everyone’s whims… and he was humble enough to not realize he was leaving a legacy.”
In translation, the combination of ego and humility often presented itself as brash.
“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Patton?’” Fogle said. “There was a moment when Patton was sending his troops into battle, and he said [paraphrased], “if you don’t come back victorious, I don’t want any of you to come back alive.’ And one of his aides asks him, after the lieutenants have gone, ‘Don’t you see that sometimes, they don’t know whether you’re being serious or you’re just trying to make a point?’ Patton says, “It doesn’t matter if they know. It only matters what I know…’ That was H.T.”
At the root of it all, he always knew.
Editor’s note – The staff of the Post-Register offers our thoughts, prayers and sincerest condolences to the Wright family, and our thanks for sharing your husband, father and grandfather with us for the past 12 years. “The Judge” was a joy to know, both as a county judge and as a man, and he will be sorely missed. -kb