Nacogdoches has lost two titans of the community in the past two weeks.
The deaths of Peggy Wright on Nov. 26 and Ed Cole on Dec. 5 leave voids in our collective heart and legacies that will continue to impact us for years to come.
Both were vigorous supporters of Stephen F. Austin State University and helped mold it into the fine institution of higher education that it is today through donations, advocacy and service.
Wright was the model of what one thinks of when imagining a university benefactor. She had a lifelong connection to SFA after attending the university’s Demonstration School as a child and graduating from college there while her husband, Tom, was fighting in World War II.
Wright spent a year as an educator before focusing on raising her family and being a strong leader for her children and our community and the university.
She served twice as a regent and became the first woman selected as chair of the board. It was an outstanding accomplishment by an impressive woman.
“Peggy Wright was one of Stephen F. Austin’s and Nacogdoches’ most outstanding leaders and philanthropists,” said James I Perkins, who served on the board of regents with Wright.
In many ways, Cole was Wright’s opposite, though the two shared a common love for SFA.
Cole came from humble beginnings, growing up in Homer, Louisiana, but he amassed a fortune in the oil and gas industry by renting out specialized drilling equipment. Unlike the Wrights, the Coles never had any children of their own, instead opting to adopt SFA and send countless students to the university with scholarships.
“He was a man bigger than man himself. He had a wide range of interest and projects that went up until the day he died. He was a local participant in the university with phenomenal grants and gifts. He participated in all levels of activities,” said longtime friend Dr. Leon Hallman in a fitting tribute to Cole.
Wright and Cole’s work at SFA will live on, and we find it fitting that one of the more than a half dozen buildings and center named for the Coles — The Ed and Gwen Cole Performance Hall — is inside the Tom and Peggy Wright Music Building.
As we pause to remember their legacies, we wonder who will be the next Peggy Wright or Ed Cole? Perhaps that person is attending SFA right now thanks to the generous contributions Cole and Wright made through the years. Maybe that person is enrolled in the SFA Charter School and will follow in Wright’s footsteps. Or they could be another humble oil industry tycoon with barely any high school and no higher education beyond a welding certificate like Cole.
Wherever and whoever they are, they’ll have a chance to make a difference at SFA. But they have some enormous shoes to fill.