“I’ve got a lot of thoughts about Billy Wright and could ramble on all day about that good man,” Cleburne Fire Chief Scott Lail said of his longtime friend and former co-worker.
Lail and other colleagues commended Wright’s professionalism, dedication and intelligence. All said Wright’s gruff at times demeanor was more facade than reality.
“Billy liked to promote that gruff guy persona,” Lail said. “But once you got to know him you knew he was just a big teddy bear. He was a solid guy underneath who loved animals, kids and people. He just didn’t want you to know that he did.”
Wright, 55, passed away on Nov. 4.
Among other duties, Wright served as the Cleburne Fire Department’s longest serving paramedic and was instrumental in the creation of the department’s EMT program in the 1980s.
Grandview born and raised, Wright initially wanted to be a police officer.
“I used to go on ride-a longs with Grandview officers when I was younger,” Wright said in 2015. “Then I became a fireman with the Grandview department for a couple of years before I came to Cleburne.”
Wright joined CFD as a firefighter and paramedic under then Fire Chief Lloyd McVickers.
Former Cleburne Fire Chief Clint Ishmael credits Wright’s efforts early on toward upgrading the department’s equipment and training.
“Billy was one of our first paramedics in Cleburne,” Ishmael said. “When you consider that [emergency medical service] calls are about 70 percent of our business, that’s a huge thing. Billy saw the department go from a little EMS to a lot and played a role in those improvements.”
Ishmael said Wright will be missed.
“He went to school in Grandview same as I did,” Ishmael said. “His brother was in the same grade as me, but I’ve known Billy since the fourth grade. Billy was a very unique person and also very intelligent and a top-notch paramedic, firefighter and fire marshal. His work as fire marshal went a long way toward improving substandard buildings and making Cleburne safer and cleaner over the past several years.”
During his time as Cleburne’s fire marshal, Wright retired in 2015, he never shied from standing up to standing up to those whose property was out of compliance during Cleburne Building and Standards Commission hearings, especially those who skirted the issues or exhibited little interest in working to return their properties back to code.
“If they don’t care and they’re not even trying you have to go after them a bit,” Wright said in 2015. “And it’s making a difference. Back when [Building and Standards] first got started they dealt with one or two buildings or houses a year. Now we’re dealing with 30 a month or so and making progress at getting Cleburne cleaned up.”
Tough though he may have been at times, Wright was always fair, Ishmael said.
“Billy and the commission would work with you all day long so long as you were working to fix code violations on your property and truthful about explaining your situation, even if it took time because of money and so forth. If he saw you were making an effort, he would always work with you.”
Cleburne Assistant Fire Chief Keith Scarbrough remembered Wright as a character who he always enjoyed working with.
“Billy wasn’t hardheaded exactly, but you always knew where you stood with him,” Scarbrough said. “He’d let you know. He took forever to write reports but they were always well written and very detailed once he did. We always used to have fun aggravating him, but we could tell he liked it. I always enjoyed working with him.
“He seemed gruff at first but was great once you knew him. Billy was one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back and someone who could always be counted on. He’s definitely going to be missed.”
Cleburne Fire Chief Scott Lail laughed as he recalled Wright’s favorite rejoinder anytime someone tried to aggravate him.
“It was his favorite quote,” Lail said. “Anytime anyone tried to mess with Billy he’d just say, ‘Jealousy is a terrible thing.’”
Wright in 2015 reflected fondly upon his time with the city.
“We’ve had hundreds of CPR calls where we’ve brought someone back, that always feels good,” Wright said. “The worst were children in house fires and we’ve had a few of those, unfortunately. Stuff like that sticks with you forever. It wears on you and gets tiring, which is why fire fighting is a limited lifespan deal. At some point, you’ve got to get out and do something else.
“But you know, even on my worst day, this is still the best job I’ve ever had. “Cleburne has the greatest folks in the world and you can’t get a better group of people to work with.”
Services for Wright were held Saturday at Grandview Church of Christ.
Lail, who served as best man at Wright’s wedding, said he spent the night at Rosser Funeral home the first night of Wright’s visitation.
“It was an honor to be there with Billy thinking of all the old stories over the years,” Lail said. “We had a fireman with him 24/7 until his burial.”