Educator, Baptist Leader, Civic Servant
Achievement in education, the church, and to society to the caliber of which
was attained by Leslie S. Wright is a rare accomplishment of honor.
Following the relocation of Howard College, Dr. Wright, as the new President of the College in 1958, guided the development of the Homewood campus. He strengthened, elevated, and augmented the school's programs and established strong ties with the Alabama Baptist State Convention that eventually resulted in increased support. He was instrumental in acquiring Tennessee's historic Cumberland School of Law in 1961, a decision that hastened the institution's transition to university status and the change of its name to Samford University in 1965. In 1973, he oversaw the merger agreement between the Baptist Medical Center's Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing and Samford University. During his presidency, the student population doubled, and he personally awarded diplomas to nearly 17,000 graduates. By the end of his tenure in 1983, eleven major campus facilities were complete, and the original vision of the new campus had been realized. With a quarter-century at the helm of Samford University, Leslie S. Wright is the University's longest serving president in its sesquicentennial history. Upon his retirement as President, he was named Chancellor for Life.
Born in Birmingham and a graduate of the University of Louisville, his was a full career of service that resounded locally and encircled the globe. In the United States Navy, in the employ of Senator Lister Hill, in leading the Baptist Foundation of Alabama, and as President of Samford University, he earned such respect that he was appointed the first head of the Alabama Ethics Commission. Within Alabama, he directed charitable, civic, historic, public, and professional organizations. He was a lifelong Sunday School teacher and deacon in Baptist churches. Globally, as one of Rotary International's sixteen directors and as the first chairman of PolioPlus, he spearheaded a 240 Million dollar worldwide campaign to eradicate polio and immunized against infectious disease. Due to this effort, more that one billion children received the oral polio vaccine.
Throughout his career he had the loving support of his wife, Lolla Catherine Wurtele. They parented two sons, Leslie Stephen Wright, Jr. and John King Wright.
As Leslie Stephen Wright sought to serve others, he received numerous awards including honorary degrees, the Birmingham Citizen of the Year, election to the Alabama Academy of Honor, the Educator of the Year national award from the Religious Heritage of America, the George Washington Honor Medal by the Freedoms Foundation, the Jefferson Award of the American Institute of Public Service, and Rotary's Citation of Meritorious Service and Distinguished Service Award.
Leslie Stephen Wright was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame in 1999.