Like many Yale undergraduates, Bill Wright ’82 spent a lot of time in the library.
So when he gave $1 million towards the renovation of the Cross Campus Library, Wright said, it seemed natural for that money to fund the construction of a reading room for CCL that was inspired by his favorite study spot, the Linonia and Brothers reading room in Sterling Memorial Library. A former chair of the Yale Alumni Fund and self-described lover of libraries, Wright is the only multi-million dollar African-American donor in Yale’s history.
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Wright said he is glad to be able to give back to his alma mater, and he also hopes his gift will serve as an example to other black alumni and alumni in his age group.
“I think the message needs to be crafted that black alums have not been tapped and keyed into the needs of the University and their role in the University,” he said.
At the invitation of the library’s Diversity Council, Wright spoke to an audience of library staff Thursday night about his experiences before and after Yale and the centrality of libraries to his life and society.
He later advised the council on ways to increase diversity among library staff. During his talk, Wright discussed his upbringing in the South as the son of two teachers, his affinity for libraries and his involvement with volunteer work and philanthropy. Wright, who is a partner at Morgan Stanley, is on the boards of numerous charities as well as the Yale Tomorrow campaign executive committee.
University Librarian Alice Prochaska said alumni sometimes overlook the library when they give to Yale. She said they tend to prioritize their residential colleges and the departments in which they studied as students.
“If we do our job right, the library is taken for granted,” she said.
Wright has long been a strong supporter of the University, giving numerous unrestricted gifts in addition to supporting both phases of the SML and CCL renovations. But his giving to Yale transcends his monetary gifts, Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach said.
“He is one of our most important volunteers and has been over a significant period of time,” she said.
University President Richard Levin said Wright’s service and giving not only benefit Yale directly, but also inspire other alumni.
“Bill Wright is one of our most devoted and most highly regarded alumni,” Levin said. “He’s been a success in business and very involved in community affairs as well as Yale volunteer activities. He has been a terrific asset to the University.”
The library is the heart of the University and the center of all educational pursuits, Wright said. He said he plans to bring a handkerchief to what he expects to be an emotional dedication of the reading room, which will be located the space formerly occupied by Machine City and which will bear his name.
Although he may be Yale’s only multi-million dollar African-American donor, Wright is not the first notable one.
Upon her death in 1872 Mary Goodman — an African American washerwoman — gave Yale her entire savings of $5,000 to educate black clergy at Yale College. She is buried in the Grove Street Cemetery in a plot belonging to the University.