Friends and family of the late Vern Wright are planning one final ride in his memory.
Wright is remembered as many things in Port Alberni, from a talented mechanic to a race car driver to an avid hunter. But most importantly, he is remembered as a good friend.
Wright was born on Sept. 2, 1937 in Beecher Bay near East Sooke. He moved to Port Alberni with his family in the early 1950s and bought his property on Best Road in 1960, where he lived until his death on April 18, 2021. He was 83 years old.
Wright worked for MacMillan Bloedel for many years on the log boom, but had a passion for body work and eventually opened his own auto body shop, Vern’s Automotive. By the late 1960s, business was booming and he left his job at MacMillan Bloedel to work in his shop full-time.
“He loved cars so much and he was so good at it,” said Wright’s son-in-law, Michael. “He was like an artist.”
For Marty Deederly, meeting Wright was the beginning of a lifelong love of cars. He and Wright were neighbours in the 1970s and quickly became close.
“He was like a second dad to me,” said Deederly.
The pair hunted, fished and raced together, and Deederly eventually opened his own automotive shop, just a mile away from Vern’s old shop.
“He would help anybody,” said Deederly. “He showed a lot of people how to do stuff,” he added, recalling that Wright often taught local schoolkids how to work on their cars. “He was always kind. If he had a part and you needed it, it was yours.”
Bob Anderson, a friend of Wright’s for more than 50 years, said that Wright would often loan out his classic cars to the high school prom parade. He even drove in the parade several times.
“He always had a car available if you needed it,” said Anderson.
Ken Thomas met Wright in 1967, after Thomas’s car had “a little altercation” with the Bamfield Road and Wright fixed it. The two quickly became fast friends.
“He and I built his first garage,” Thomas recalled. “It was just 24 feet by 24 feet. We went out to the woods and cut poles to make the rafters.”
Thomas and Wright also raced cars for many years—Wright was the driver, while Thomas was the mechanic. They travelled in a trailer with Wright’s stock car to races at Saratoga Speedway, in Victoria and in Nanaimo.
Even after Thomas moved to Parksville, he continued to keep in touch with Wright.
“I don’t know how many vehicles I took up there to get fixed after I moved over the hill,” he laughed. “[Wright] was a Mr. Fix It of anything. He was a very talented man, and a very good friend.”
The Vern Wright Memorial Ride will take place on Sunday, Sept. 11. Cars will depart from the Alberni Athletic Hall at noon, then travel down Roger Street to Gertrude Street. The route will take drivers up Kitsuksis Road and past Wright’s old house on Best Road, before coming out on Cherry Creek Road and finally ending at the Boston Pizza parking lot.
Anyone who knew Vern Wright is invited to participate.