Hilton Head Island’s rural mail carriers paid a touching tribute to one of their own Wednesday.
They lined up in a dozen of the little white mail trucks and escorted the flag-draped coffin of Deacon Caesar Wright Jr. to his final resting place on the banks of Skull Creek.
Some of them were not even born when Wright joined the U.S. Postal Service in 1968, taking over one of only two routes that served all of Hilton Head. Today, the island has 22 rural routes and 12 city routes.
The quiet man known as “Deacon Wright,” or sometimes “Junior,” was 84 when he died Sept. 18.
He was the island’s first African American mail carrier. In that way, he was the trailblazer for twin brothers David and Jonathan Murray of Hilton Head, who both became postmasters.
“He was quiet and pleasant to work with,” David Murray told a full house at the funeral at Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church on Squire Pope Road. “Customers held him in high esteem.”
Wright delivered the mail for 29 years, starting on mostly sandy roads and ending up as one of many carriers working within a single development, Hilton Head Plantation.
He retired 22 years ago.
“He was always a part of the Hilton Head postal family,” postmaster Carolyn Warren said, standing in the heat outside the church as the mail trucks lined the street ahead of the long, green hearse. “He would come check on us, and we checked on him.”
Wright goes back to a day when mail carriers knew everyone on the island, their comings and goings, and their heartaches and habits.
“Caesar had such a strong relationship with his customers that they would call him at home,” Warren said. “He exemplified customer service. They loved him. We got personal calls for him long after his retirement, asking how he was doing and where he was living.”
Phil Propst, who said he had the first U.S. Postal Service route on the island, said, “I can’t say enough about him, as far as goodness goes.”
Caesar Henry Wright Jr. was born on Hilton Head in 1935, two decades before the first bridge linked it to a new world.
He was the only child of Caesar Henry and Olivia Joyner Wright.
When Irvin Campbell, head of the American Legion Arthur E. (Conrad) Wiley Post 49, paid tribute to Wright, he remembered Wright’s mother as his third-grade teacher, and joked that “I’ve still got the scars on my hand to prove it.”
Wright completed all the public school available to him on Hilton Head, then graduated from Penn School on St. Helena Island in 1953. He attended Claflin College in Orangeburg for a brief time before serving eight years in the U.S. Air Force.
He married Annette Jones of Orangeburg, who also was a Hilton Head teacher. They lived on Squire Pope Road, where they raised four children, losing one to a car wreck. Annette Wright died in 2015.
Deacon Robert Jones, a nephew paying tribute to Wright at the funeral, said some people thought that his Aunt Annette was the boss in the family.
“She was mainly the spokesperson,” he said.
A baby great-grandson of Caesar and Annette Wright was at the graveside in the Talbird Cemetery for the playing of Taps, final prayers, and presentation to the family of the tightly folded American flag.
Wright was a founding member of the American Legion Post 49, and its chaplain.
At Mount Calvary, he was a longtime deacon, head of the deacon board, chairman of the Trustees Board, and a member of two choirs. Earlier this year, he was recognized as one of Mount Calvary’s Black History Honorees and received the Men’s Fellowship service award.
When Wright retired in 1997, he shared his formula for success in a front-page story in The Island Packet. It would work as well for the mail carriers who honored him Wednesday as it did for him.
“When it comes to work, show up on time,” he said. “When you show up, look presentable and do your job. After all, you went looking for the job, it didn’t go looking for you.”