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May-June 2014

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In Memoriam: Chris Anthony Wright (1946–2014)

Larger than life—perhaps. Chris Wright was the one constant fixture at mineral shows for the past forty years. Not one for much fanfare and self-promotion, he continued along at his own pace, and, as it turns out, the pace was much more than we thought.

Chris was born in Lubbock, Texas. His father, Clark, was a construction worker, and the family moved around with the jobs. In 1967 they finally settled in Hot Springs where Chris graduated from high school. Chris attended a number of different colleges, in particular Texas Technological University (1964–1967) and Little Rock University (1968, bachelor's in geology, ecology, biology, history). He earned his master's from the University of Arkansas in 1969 (botany, zoology, geology) and did subsequent work in ecology at the University of Arkansas (1970–1971).

In recent years Chris's health was not kind to him. He did not get around easily, and the long drive to shows was a serious strain. Chris was in his usual easy chair in front of the television when he quietly died. His “rock,” his partner, his sounding board, Chris Hughes, was with him at the time.

Chris, like so many collectors, began collecting minerals as a young boy—his godfather/uncle was a pit supervisor at the Clifton Mines in Arizona, and when the family would visit in Arizona, Chris always came back home with another rock. Of course, his proximity to the famous quartz mines of Hot Springs was also a stimulant. When Chris was fourteen—yes, I did write fourteen7excl;—he purchased the entire stock of a local rock shop. He also rented a building to house his budding collection and was selling specimens by mail-order while still in his teens. In 1971 Chris opened Wright's Rock Shop. Through the years it expanded into probably the largest “rock shop” in the country, covering seven buildings with more than 17,500 square feet of space. I'm sad to say that I never had the opportunity to visit—it must be something to see in that area! Chris has always said that at any given time there would be over 900,000 specimens, including minerals, fossils, shells, books, jewelry, lapidary supplies, and so much more. He was always acquiring; I can't think of anyone else who had such an astonishing amount of inventory.

Most of Chris's family was involved in running the shop while Chris traveled. He is survived by his daughter, Renee Jones; his nephew, Mark Sparks; and his sister, LeNoira Sparks. His wife, Linda, died sometime ago. Chris took as much pleasure in selling a $1.00 rock to a young child as he did in selling a $1,000 rock to the likes of former President Bill Clinton, at one time a classmate (who knew?).

His clientele ran from tourists to sophisticated collectors and museums. He wrote many articles for gem and mineral magazines, gave lectures at mineral clubs and shows, wrote two books (Crystal Knowledge and Flora of the Pea Ridge Military Park), and was fun to watch on his frequent appearances on Good Morning Arkansas.

His substantial personal collection had been dispersed long ago, and in more recent years his collecting was centered on New Mexican Indian pottery, although his interest in all things involving nature was vast. Chris, as I knew him, was compassionate, down-to-earth, broad-minded, and never quick to judge another.

Another unique friend to say goodbye to … I will miss seeing him.

Dona Leicht and her husband, Wayne, have owned and operated Kristalle in Laguna Beach, California, since 1974.

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