Bangor Grammarians are deeply indebted to past pupil Philip Macartney who has given us permission to share, with our wider online audience, this heartfelt tribute to his friend Jeffrey (Jeff) Wright, who passed away last October, a victim of Motor Neurone Disease at just 42.
Owing to pressure on magazine space a shorter version will appear in the forthcoming (2019) Grammarian, whereas the following is the full tribute penned by Philip, a fellow member of the Class of 1995. We join him in extending sincere sympathy to Jeff’s wife and family circle.
Jeff Wright, who passed away aged just 42 on 30 October 2018, attended Bangor Grammar School from 1988/95. He is survived by his wife Gemma and sons Dylan and Brandon.
Jeff was an incredibly popular guy at school and the coolest in the form – by a mile. His uniform was worn as loosely as possible. If you look up ‘uncomfortable’ in the dictionary, there is probably a picture of Jeff wearing a blazer. He was way too cool for a blazer.
Academically, Jeff played dumb but he was actually smart. His carefree demeanour and Fonzie-like approach to schooling belied an intelligent young man who was definitely going places. He left Bangor Grammar School with very good A-Level grades to attend university in Edinburgh.
His behaviour record was no worse than the rest of us. I remember Jeff took his sister’s car and drove to school one day. He was mildly surprised that he got into trouble with the teachers for it; he was 15 at the time.
Sport was Jeff’s real strength. He was a very talented athlete – fast, strong and super-competitive. The pinnacle of his sporting career at BGS was playing for the glorious 1995 rugby team. Already a veritable rock star due to his motor racing exploits, when the team reached that year’s Schools’ Cup final at Ravenhill there was only one team member who was going to hog the headlines and that was Jeff.
The Belfast Telegraph did a great pre-final article tying together Jeff’s racing and rugby careers. It featured a big picture of Jeff being all cool with a racing car and another of him running down the wing in the rugby… but there was an issue. The journalist had used a little bit of artistic licence with her prose, quoting Jeff as saying: “My friends call me Speedy.”
It is important to know that Jeff did not like the name Speedy; indeed Jeff hated the name Speedy. We had never called him Speedy; he would never have allowed us to call him Speedy. Speedy was not cool enough for our Jeff. So, like good friends, we read the article and promptly began calling him Speedy. It didn’t stick, unfortunately.
He may not have liked that nickname but one thing Jeff was for sure was fast. I followed his career closely for years and was lucky enough to see him race on many occasions. Coached by his dad Tom and supported by former Formula One driver Eddie Irvine, his talent was obvious for anyone to see as soon as Jeff was behind a wheel.
He raced in Formula Ford, Formula Ford Zetec, Formula Vauxhall Junior and Formula Atlantic in the US and Formula Nippon in Japan. He raced GT cars in Malaysia and tested Formula 2 and Formula 3 cars in the UK. He instructed all over the world, scaring witless any poor soul brave enough to get in for a hot lap with him. All bias aside, Jeff really was a very good driver. He also rode classic motocross for Northern Ireland, competing with the world’s best even after his health issues began.
There are so many brilliant stories about his racing career in cars and on motorbikes. The best in my book was when he actually fell asleep during one race. Only Jeff…
In 2016 he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. This is a particularly cruel disease that attacks the nervous system and muscles and is fatal in 99% of cases. Jeff did not intend on giving up though. With the help of many generous donations and the tireless work of his close family and friends, Jeff fought the disease to his last breath. He travelled the world for treatments and never stopped believing he could beat it. His courage in the face of death is a testament to how he lived his life.
Summing up, I only have to look at the words of famous racing commentator John Bisignano when he watched Jeff racing at Road America. After a ridiculously audacious move to take the lead, Bisignano said: “Jeff Wright is nothing short of awesome today.” For me, indeed for everyone who knew him or met him throughout his whole life, Jeff was nothing short of awesome.