Ernestine McIver Wright, 94, mother, teacher, numbers cruncher

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Ernestine McIver Wright, a music teacher who excelled at playing piano and a hobbyist artist whose oil paintings were once sold by a New England art gallery, was also so skilled at crunching mathematical equations that she worked in a position titled “computer” in the early 50s at the forerunner of NASA, the National Advisory Committee of Aeronautics, in Cleveland.

“I’m told she was a whiz at this ­because of her intelligence and the dexterity she had as a pianist. I do know that the first time I ever heard the word ‘computer’ was in the context of the work she did at NACA,” said Mrs. Wright’s daughter, Linda Wright Moore, a former Philadelphia Daily News columnist.

Mrs. Wright, 94, who raised two children and nurtured four grandchildren during a 70-year marriage to pioneering African American aeronautical engineer Linwood C. Wright Sr., passed away Good Friday, April 14, at her daughter’s Wyncote home.

She died from late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, said Wright Moore, a senior communications officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“She was a real live wire who lived to entertain and she lived to enjoy her family and friends. That’s what I’ll remember because Alzheimer’s, at the end, can be difficult. She lived a long and happy life. I’m just glad she is not suffering anymore,” Wright Moore said.

In Dec. 2013, doctors at Abington Memorial Hospital told the family that Mrs. Wright had just weeks to live, her son, Assistant U.S. Attorney L.C. Wright Jr., recalled yesterday. “It’s the mystery of the human spirit,” he said of his mother’s ability to have survived so much longer.

“She wanted to live, and she lived a very fulfilled life,” he continued. “But when my dad passed in February [at age 97] I think she felt it was time to let go.”

Mrs. Wright was born May 28, 1922 in Newport News, Va., the daughter of an African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E) minister who frequently moved the family to establish new congregations. But at age 13 Mrs. Wright’s mother died, and she and her youngest sister Marilyn were sent to be raised by their grandmother, Wright Moore said.

At 16, she graduated valedictorian of Peabody High School in Petersburg, Va., in 1938. Afterward, she earned a bachelor of science degree in music from Virginia State College in 1942. Before graduating, she met her future husband, Linwood Wright, who was employed at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Va.

When she married in 1946, Mrs. Wright was working as a music teacher in Virginia before the couple moved to Cleveland, where their daughter was born and where they both worked at NACA: she crunching numbers and he in the Fluid and Gas Analysis Section.

By 1956, the family had relocated to Cincinnati, where the couple’s son was born and where Mr. Wright had taken a job with General Electric. By the mid-1960s, Mr. Wright’s career took the family to Los Angeles where they remained until the early 1970s and where Mrs. Wright taught in California public schools after earning her teaching certification there.       

The family moved several times more before Mrs. Wright and her husband retired and settled in the Philadelphia area in 1999 to be near their children and grandchildren.

Wright Moore said her mother and many of her friends were career women with families before the Women’s Liberation Movement brought attention to such women, and they did so while overcoming racial barriers.

“She set an example for me that you can have it all ­­– a full career, family and a well-rounded life,” said Wright Moore, who is the widow of the late Philadelphia Inquirer associate editor emeritus, reporter and columnist Acel Moore.

L.C. Wright, who is based in Philadelphia, said in addition to being very supportive of her husband and children, his mother instilled in him a strong sense of confidence. “A never quit attitude, an attitude and confidence that you will succeed, and a mental toughness even in the face of adversity.”

Mrs. Wright was a member of a number of organizations including, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; the Sophisticates; Jack and Jill of America; and The Girl Friends, Inc., a national African American women’s social group, where she served as chapter president.

In addition to her daughter, son and four grandchildren, Mrs. Wright is survived by a sister.

A viewing will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, April 21, at  St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 7809 Old York Road in Elkins Park. A celebration of life service will follow at 1:30 p.m. Burial will take place at St. Paul’s Cemetery immediately following the services.

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