Article Launched: 12/15/2007 01:00:50 AM MST
The final bell rang for one of El Paso's toughest customers Friday morning.
Jerry Wright, the man who survived terrible injuries in Vietnam, who fought back from a horrific auto accident, who was willing to work with every kid from the tough side of the street, who was always best friends with hard work, was 70.
The entire El Paso boxing community found a lump in its throat Friday, and the entire community was diminished.
Cancer was our friend's final foe, and he fought that just like he fought everything in his life. Jerry Wright, you see, was a warrior.
Junior Vicencio, the man who worked alongside Wright with young fighters for so many years, could barely speak when he said, "My brother Jerry passed away."
Vicencio called Wright "the toughest guy I ever knew."
We all called Jerry that -- because he was.
Wright grew up in small town Indiana, where patriotism was far more than lip service. After serving 4ĺyears in the Air Force, he went into the Army and officer candidate's school. He was a platoon leader in Vietnam and, just two weeks before he was to leave, Wright was hit. He lost half his intestines, had serious injuries to his lungs and a sucking chest wound.
Wright would always grin and shrug and growl in that rough, raspy voice, "Ah, hell, I was no damn hero; just doing my job."
He also said, "Commanding in combat is as great an experience as you will ever have."
Wright spent two of the next three years at Beaumont Hospital, and he thenwent to work. He took up golf, walking the Underwood course to get fit again. He hit 300 balls a day and became a 4-handicap golfer. His workout regimen, even in his 60s, was legendary.
"He was El Paso's Jack LaLanne," Vicencio said.
Wright, of course, was never far from his love -- boxing. He had 102 amateur fights, losing only nine. He fought a Cuban for a world championship and laughingly said, "That Cuban kicked my butt."
But nobody ever really kicked Jerry's butt.
The man worked tirelessly with amateur boxing, with the local, state and national Golden Gloves. He judged, refereed and trained. He was proud of all his fighters, but he was most proud of Jennifer Han, a young woman he coached to numerous national championships. He called her the best athlete in El Paso. Friday, the day she lost her friend and trainer and the day before she graduated from UTEP, Han was in tears.
It looked as if he had left us in January, 2005, when the van he was riding in (bringing back boxers from a tournament) rolled. Wright suffered a fractured skull, broke his neck in four places, had both shoulders dislocated, separated his right shoulder and broke the ribs on his right side.
Soon after he was out of the hospital, Wright was punching the bags again, walking 2 miles in the morning, 2 more in the afternoon, doing pushups.
He was so proud of his wife, Hideko, and his three daughters, all college graduates. He was working out, refereeing, judging, looking to the future. Then cancer came. And, like the warrior he was, Jerry Wright fought.
He lost that battle, but he had long since won the hearts of a community with his fierceness and kindness.
Jerry Wright was as much of a man as you would ever want to know. But Heaven is a tougher and nicer place now.
Bill Knight may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6171.