La Verne mourns loss of Dr. Dorena Wright

Professor of English Dorena Wright gives a 2009 speech at a dinner for the Peace with Justice Center of Pomona Valley, for which she served on the board. Wright taught at the University of La Verne beginning in 1989. File photo by/ Rafael Anguiano
Professor of English Dorena Wright gives a 2009 speech at a dinner for the Peace with Justice Center of Pomona Valley, for which she served on the board. Wright taught at the University of La Verne beginning in 1989. / file photo by Rafael Anguiano

Des Delgadillo
Podcast Producer

Folk music, poetry and a traditional ringing of bells filled Morgan Auditorium Jan. 31, during the memorial service for Dr. Dorena Wright, a professor of English with the University of La Verne for more than 25 years. Dr. Wright died in December at Pomona Valley Hospital. She was 76.

Highly regarded for both her understanding of English literature and her philanthropic efforts, Dr. Wright left a remarkable impression on both her students and her colleagues.

“It was really her temperament to be always kind, always non-combative, always concerned that the ultimate decision of action should be awareness of others and compassion needed to provide for them,” said Bill Cook, professor of English and a colleague of Dr. Wright’s.

Dr. Wright’s colleagues all spoke fondly of her various quirks, including a fondness for cats and her insistence on using public transportation instead of driving anywhere.

“She was a true English eccentric,” said David Werner, chairman of the English department and a close colleague and friend of Dr. Wright’s.

A true scholar, Dr. Wright brought an unbridled mastery of linguistics into the classroom. She was fluent in seven languages, including Old Icelandic and Old English.

“To have that kind of a treasure in this small of a department was truly something,” Werner said.

A private person, Dr. Wright never spoke much about her life outside of English literature, but her passion for poetry would eventually become a big part of her life.

Sometimes she and Werner would have long car rides into Los Angeles and would pass the time reciting poetry to one another.

But with no immediate family to fill in the gaps, Dr. Wright’s reluctance to talk about herself forced her colleagues to conduct some research on her life, the details of which still remain ambiguous.

“It was sort of like putting together a puzzle,” University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner said she reflected on Dr. Wright’s life at her memorial service and helped compose a short biography.

“She loved detective fiction, and I kind of felt like I was on my own detective mission putting together the pieces of her life.”

Dr. Wright was born in 1938 in Buckinghamshire, a county in Southeast England. As a young girl, Dr. Wright’s family received a telegram informing them of her older brother’s death in World War II, an event in Wright’s history that would later lead to her tireless commemoration of World War II casualties.

Professionally, Dr. Wright’s resume was expansive. She received her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in English language and literature at Oxford, where she also earned numerous honors and distinctions. As a teacher, she spent time in New England,

London and Australia before returning to the United States to pursue a doctorate in comparative literature.

Dr. Wright was known for putting less emphasis on grades and more on understanding and participation.

“She was a transformative educator,” Wagoner said. “She sought to make this education live inside of people.”

Dr. Wright’s passion for literature was not lost on students either.

“She really had a way of emotionally drawing you into poems you wouldn’t necessarily find interesting at all, but after she read it was a different story,” said Chandler Heath, a junior English major who bonded with Dr. Wright over the works of the poet John Donne.

When she was not immersed in British crime novels or building relationships on poems, Dr. Wright dedicated much of her time to philanthropic work with the Pomona Valley Peace and Justice Foundation.

“She brought a very sophisticated yet compassionate understanding to conditions across the globe, and spent decades of her life influenced by the necessity to insure peace,” Cook said.

Des Delgadillo can be reached at desmond.delgadillo@laverne.edu.

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