VCU Engineering pays tribute to C. Kenneth Wright 

The following tribute was shared in a 2019 memorial ceremony for Mr. Wright

At VCU, we encourage personal ambition, acquisition of knowledge, celebration of success, the value of diversity and a spirit of giving back to others. On Thursday evening August 15, 2019, Mr. C. Kenneth Wright passed away after living a life that reflected all that VCU strives to represent. And there was so much more to his life’s journey that we want to share with the entire VCU community. Along the way, we also want to recognize his dear friend and wife Dianne Harris Wright and his daughter, Nancy.

Ken was fortunate to live a full life. He was born in Amelia County, Virginia, on October 17, 1924, and moved to Chesterfield County as a young  boy. Like many young boys of that time, he liked cars and all things mechanical, and often earned money by delivering milk from local farms to the Richmond Dairy. In high school he washed cars while working at a small car rental business in downtown Richmond. Anything to drive a car or truck, explore, and learn about people and life along the way. There was no time for college – bigger events got in the way. At age 18 he was swept into World War II, where his mechanical interests were put to good use in the Army Air Corps, as he worked on P-47s and other aircraft.

At age 21 he returned to Richmond and went back to his old job at the car rental company, but the world was a different place and new opportunities were being created.  He jumped at the chance to buy an original Avis franchise for $1,000, and scraped together funds to buy a fleet of 20 older-model Fords. There was no looking back. He became one of the most successful Avis franchisees and also added a Penske truck franchise.  He would buy and rent anything, from concrete trucks to Corvettes (his favorite). He also acquired real estate across Virginia – trying to visualize the need for rental locations 10–20 years into the future. Ken became a leader of Avis franchise operators across the United States.

It was clear that Ken loved to engage with people, and it is also clear that everyone respected this hard-working, smart man. As he operated his business over 45 years, he regularly met with the CEOs of the major auto companies such as Bill Ford, Lee Iacocca and Rich Waggoner. Ken and Dianne became best friends with the CEO of British Airways, Colin Marshall. And some of the best stories are from the many years when the Avis franchisees engaged with (former Governor) John Connolly of Texas – remember he was wounded along-side of the assassination of President Kennedy. But the real testament of his character comes from Ken’s employees; some have been at his side for over 60 years.