Frank Wright immersed himself in the stories he covered for the Star Tribune.
Unshaven and dressed in ragged clothes, he wrote what it was like to live on skid row in Minneapolis, describing the night in 1958 he walked the streets and slept in a flophouse.
More than a decade later, as a Washington correspondent, he interviewed Minnesota demonstrators who’d taken buses to the nation’s capital to march against the Vietnam War. With a son in tow, he slept overnight with the protesters on a D.C. church floor.
For 44 years Wright plied his craft, first as a reporter for both the Star and Tribune newspapers, later as chief of the Tribune’s Washington bureau, then the Tribune’s managing editor and later, managing editor of the merged newspapers. In 1984, Wright became the paper’s foreign affairs correspondent, writing analytical articles from the world’s hot spots.
Wright died Tuesday at the age of 87 from complications of a stroke.
“Frank was one of the giants of journalism,” said former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, who also served as U.S. senator from Minnesota.
“He was one of the very best reporters I ever dealt with,” Mondale said. “Brilliant, conscientious, responsible, he was the place to go if you were concerned about the truth ... If you saw him coming you were probably going to hear something you didn’t want to hear.”
After his retirement in 1998, Wright became an active volunteer, tutoring refugees with his wife, Barbara, who has since died. He was treasurer of the council of the Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis.
“He helped form it into a loving, justice-oriented congregation,” said the pastor, the Rev. Mary Albing.
Wright graduated from United Township High School in East Moline, Ill., in 1949, Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., in 1953 and the University of Minnesota journalism school in 1954.
He covered the suburbs and later Minneapolis City Hall and the State Capitol before going to the Washington bureau.
He received a national investigative reporting award in 1972 for disclosure of dairy farmer political contributions to Congress and President Richard Nixon.
Wright chaired the Tribune unit of the Newspaper Guild, the union representing newsroom workers, for six years starting in 1961 and led the Guild when it honored picket lines in a 114-day strike by production workers. As an editor, he was on the other side of the table during labor negotiations. In a long speech at a forum after retiring, he said any worker “who has the legal opportunity to form and/or join a decent union should do so, today if not sooner.”
Joel Kramer, former editor and publisher of the Star Tribune, recalled Wright as “a very solid and thoughtful editor” who later “did a fantastic job” as an international reporter, telling interesting stories that offered a lot of perspective.
Star Tribune photographer Jerry Holt accompanied Wright on a reporting trip to South Africa. Holt recalled shooting photos of Nelson Mandela the night he was elected president — the first time blacks could vote and run for office — while Wright stayed behind at a hotel, interviewing a maid. “He told me she was in tears, and those tears said it all to him,” said Holt.
Wright’s son Jeff, of Eden Prairie, said his father’s advice to him was “Edit before you publish,” or put another way, “If you are going to do it, do it right.” Wright is also survived by sons Steve of Edina, Greg of Louisville, Colo., and daughters Tally of Minnetonka and Sarah Peterson of Chanhassen.
His funeral will be Aug. 7, with visitation at 5:30 p.m. and a service at 6:30 p.m. at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer, 5440 Penn Av. S., Minneapolis.
Staff librarian John Wareham contributed to this report.