Bertha Cochran Wright, 94, a Lexington philanthropist and widow of Warren Wright Jr., whose family owned Calumet Farm at the peak of its racing dynasty, died quietly in her sleep July 31.
Wright was living in Alexandria, Va., working for John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers during World War II, when she met her future husband. Wright Jr. had been sent by his father to Washington D.C. to learn the insurance business. The couple married in 1943.
"Labor married capital; don't think it didn't cause a little stir," Bertha Wright told the Lexington Herald-Leader in a 1991 interview. She quickly embraced her new life in Central Kentucky and became an ardent booster, becoming involved in many local charities.
She was the last Wright to live at historic Calumet, watching the farm grow to prominence through the 1940s and 1950s. The farm, established in 1924, won its first Triple Crown in 1941 with Whirlaway, who would be named Horse of the Year that year and again in 1942. Citation would deliver another Triple Crown title in 1948.
From 1940 through 1960, Calumet would be the nation's leading owner 12 times, second four times, and third twice. As a leading breeder in this 21-year period, the farm would rank at the top 14 times. Calumet raced eight Kentucky Derby winners, the most of any owner, and also holds the top spot among the breeders of Derby winners with nine.
Bertha Wright cherished her time at the farm, which she once described as like being on a movie set, and was an avid fan of Thoroughbred racing.
"She was quite the horsewoman," said her daughter Lucille "Cindy" Drinkwater. "It was usual to find her with the Daily Racing Form spread out on the table. She would spend the day handicapping, then end up buying one $2 ticket. If she had a tip from somebody, she might spend $5. She loved the horses and loved the sport."
Wright would also watch the iconic farm collapse under the weight of debt and fall into bankruptcy and turmoil beginning in 1991.
"She was the grand lady through everything that happened at Calumet," said Drinkwater, the former spouse of J.T. Lundy, who was president of Calumet at the time of its downfall. "She refused to bad-mouth anyone."
Instead Wright focused on community work, having served on the board of the Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington, and was active in the Junior League. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Colonial Dames. Her interest in preserving history extended to Calumet, and she was instrumental in having the farm's extensive trophy collection housed at the Kentucky Horse Park instead of being shipped to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
"Where are else are you going to see eight Kentucky Derby trophies and two Triple Crown trophies in one place?" Drinkwater said. "That was important to her to keep those trophies in Kentucky and not be sent to New York. She loved Kentucky and loved the horses and loved the people. Mother certainly had a generous personality and was quite a character."
Wright is survived by her four children: Drinkwater, Courtenay Lancaster, Warren Wright III, and Thomas Wright.
Funeral services will be held Aug. 4 at 11 a.m. at Apostles Anglican Church in Lexington, followed by a burial in Lexington Cemetery. Visitation will be Aug. 3 from 2-5 p.m. at Milward-North Broadway.