Grocery owner, leader in Cross, Wright dies at 81

Elijah Wright of Cross, owner of Wright's Grocery, died at age 81 Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. BRAD NETTLES FILE PHOTO

CROSS — Elijah Wright, owner of Wright’s Grocery and lifelong community leader, died Sunday.

He was 81.

Wright survived a brutal mugging outside his store on Old Highway 6 in May 2011 to return to work and continue pushing for improvements in this rural community in northern Berkeley County. He died from ailments unrelated to the mugging, according to his brother, Harry Wright.

The store has been open part time lately, and its future is uncertain, his brother said.

“That decision has not been made,” he said.

The store has been in the family for decades. A Red & White market and Dollar General have opened nearby in recent years.

Wright’s Grocery specialized in meats not found at many other stores. People would drop in to munch rice pudding and chat.

The store also attracted those who needed a helping hand they might not find elsewhere.

“A hungry person couldn’t come to his store and go back empty-handed,” Harry Wright said. “Elijah would give you the shirt off his back. If I could collect the money that’s owed to him, I’d probably be rich. He didn’t know how to say no.”

Elijah Wright was beaten and shot outside the store just two days before he was scheduled to speak at a community meeting to kick off an effort to raise money for a new health clinic. Within six weeks, he was at the store talking to residents about the new clinic again.

The elderly and the uninsured pay what they can afford at the Cross Health Center, just up the road from Wright’s Grocery. It’s part of the Franklin C. Fetter system and has outgrown its space. Wright was on the clinic’s board and pushed for an expansion for years. “I look at him as the de facto mayor of Cross,” resident Carrie Gilliard said. “He helped a lot of people over the years. He touched a lot of lives.”

Many residents remember Elijah Wright as the one who drove workers to and from Charleston every day. Rural cotton farms were no longer supporting families in the ’40s and ’50s, and breadwinners found jobs at the Naval Shipyard, the paper mill and the steel mill, Harry Wright said. Elijah Wright ran two bus routes until workers started buying cars.

After Wright was mugged, Byron Johnson, 27, of Cross, was arrested and charged with armed robbery and attempted murder. Wright said at the time that he held no bitterness against the young man.

Eutawville Community Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.