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Businessman Gaston, Educator Wright Selected for Alabama Men's Hall of Fame

Posted by William Nunnelley on 1999-09-22

Businessman-philanthropist Arthur George Gaston and educator-civic leader Leslie Stephen Wright have been selected for induction into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame at Samford University. 

They will be inducted during the annual Men's Hall of Fame luncheon Tuesday, Sept. 28, at The Club. Tickets to the 11:30 a.m. luncheon are available. For information, call 205-879-1076. 

Founded by the Alabama legislature in 1987, the hall recognizes men "whose lives have impacted the state, nation and world." Honorees must have been deceased at least two years. The Birmingham Women's Committee of 100 sponsors the program. HOF board members represent Alabama's seven Congressional districts. 

Gaston (1892-1996), born in Demopolis and the grandson of slaves, became one of Birmingham's most influential business leaders. He founded the Booker T. Washington Insurance Company, Booker T. Washington Business College and such other enterprises as a bank, motel, radio stations, senior citizen home, funeral home and construction firm. 

His businesses initially provided jobs and benefits for African American citizens at a time when segregation limited such opportunities. Gaston supported the civil rights movement in Birmingham by providing financial and mediation support through his role as a business leader. 

In 1966 Gaston founded and endowed the A. G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club. In 1987 he made a bargain-sale arrangement allowing his 350 employees to acquire his nine corporations. The combined worth of the enterprise was $34 million, but through a generous stock-option program, employees bought the companies for only $3.4 million. 

Gaston was active in the African Methodist Episcopal Church throughout his life and served the denomination as a national officer. He held several honorary doctorates and his many recognitions included being named Black Enterprise magazine's Entrepreneur of the Century. 

Wright (1913-1997) served as president of Samford from 1958 until retirement in 1983, guiding the development of the school's Lakeshore Drive campus. He was instrumental in acquiring the Cumberland School of Law in 1961 which moved Samford toward university status, achieved in 1965. He oversaw the 1973 merger agreement between Baptist Health System's Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing and Samford.  

Born in Birmingham and a graduate of the University of Louisville, Wright was executive assistant to Alabama Senator Lister Hill and head of the Baptist Foundation of Alabama before being named Samford president. During his Samford tenure--the longest in school history--enrollment doubled and Wright personally awarded almost 17,000 diplomas to graduates. 

A civic leader, Wright was appointed the first head of the Alabama Ethics Commission. He was the first chairman of Rotary International's PolioPlus campaign, a $240-million global effort to eradicate polio and immunize against infectious disease. The effort resulted in more than one billion children worldwide receiving the oral polio vaccine. 

Wright held several honorary degrees and received numerous awards for his civic service including being named Birmingham Citizen of the Year, the Religious Heritage of America's Educator of the Year and recipient of Rotary International's Distinguished Service Award. 

 

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