Columbus' Dr. Robert Wright honored in D.C.


Originally published in the Ledger-Enquirer on September 28, 2014


Columbus philanthropist and businessman Dr. Robert L. Wright was honored Saturday night by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation during an event in Washington in which President Barack Obama was the keynote speaker.


Wright was presented the Phoenix Award, which is given to an African-American who has made significant contributions to the African-American experience, during the foundation's annual awards dinner.


"I am sure there are others much more deserving than I am, but I don't think anyone could be more grateful," Wright, who is retired in Columbus, said Sunday.


U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, was co-chairman of the foundation's 44th Annual Legislative Conference, and by virtue of that got to select Wright for the honor. Bishop also introduced and presented Wright with the award Saturday night.


"This was very significant for me because he has done so much for so many for so long," Bishop said Sunday.


Bishop, a close friend of Wright's, cited three key philanthropic efforts in which Wright was a critical player:


-Wright was chairman of the Presidential Commission for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Wright has led the effort that culminated in the 2003 Act of Congress establishing it as a part of the Smithsonian Institution, which authorized construction on a 5 acre site on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Museum of American History. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, art, history and culture and is scheduled to open in 2016.


-As an Aflac board member, Wright persuaded the company to be the first Fortune 500 firm to give a $1 million gift to both the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Wright was on the board of the organization that raised the money and erected the King memorial.


-Wright gave a legacy gift to Columbus Technical College for the Pauline Wright Health Science Building. The center is named in honor of his mother, a longtime nurse.


Wright's story has been well documented. He grew up in segregated Columbus, graduated from Spencer High School and attended Ohio State University where he received an optometry degree. He returned to Columbus to practice medicine and became involved in politics as a Republican. Wright was elected to Columbus Council in 1970 and served three consecutive terms.


He founded a national political consulting firm and later secured an appointment in President Ronald Reagan to oversee Minority Small Business at the U.S. Small Business Administration.


He later started his own business, Dimensions International, with three employees in Columbus. It grew into a company with more than 100 offices in 10 countries and 1,500 employees. He sold it to Honeywell for more than $230 million in 2007.


Wright was honored along with media mogul Cathy Hughes; legendary boxer Muhammad Ali; editor, writer and producer Susan L. Taylor; and civil rights leader Wade Henderson.