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January 1999

William K. Wright, MD, 1916-1998

Author Affiliations

Houston, Tex


Houston, Tex

Arch Facial Plast Surg. 1999;1(1):65-66. doi:10.1001/archfaci.1.1.65

WILLIAM K. WrightArticle added significantly to our current understanding of the basic principles of rhinoplasty. His anatomical and clinical studies took the mystique out of rhinoplasty and replaced it with principles based on anatomy, physiology, and aesthetics. But what was most remarkable about this man, despite his huge contributions and scientific acumen, was his gentle, humble spirit, caring ways, and open friendship to all. It was my most wonderful privilege to have had him as a teacher, mentor, and friend for the past 20 years.

William K. Wright, MD

William K. Wright, MD

Dr Wright was born in Indianapolis, Ind, on August 1, 1916. He graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn, and received his MD degree in 1943 from Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. He interned at Cook County Hospital in Illinois and did his residency at Barnes Hospital in St Louis, Mo. He did a fellowship under George Shambaugh at Northwestern and then remained there to teach. It was there in Chicago that he met and married Mary Ruth Wright, a nurse who later became a psychologist in Houston, Tex. The Wrights moved to Houston in the early 1950s, and Bill became immediately involved with the Department of Otolaryngology at Baylor College of Medicine, where he loved to teach the residents.

Bill's private practice initially was in association with Fred Guilford. His initial interests were in ear surgery, and he and Fred Guilford even designed a set of ear instruments. The lure of facial plastic surgery, though, and Bill's intense interest in the nose became the leading forces in his practice. He quickly developed a reputation as the surgeon to see in Houston for rhinoplasty, especially for revisional surgery.

I first met Dr Wright when I was a resident at the Baylor College of Medicine, where the residents always hoped to have a chance to operate with him to learn his pearls of wisdom on rhinoplasty. I did not truly get to know Bill Wright until he accepted me as a fellow in facial plastic surgery after my residency in 1980. It was then that I witnessed his art and mastery. He was a meticulous perfectionist; he instinctively knew what looked aesthetically pleasing, and he made all surgery look deceptively easy. I'll never forget one day, after we'd spent 2 hours operating on a nose, and just prior to placing the splint at what I thought was the end of the procedure, Dr Wright looked at the nose and said it did not look right. He took out all of the stitches and started again. The valuable lesson I learned was that if the nose does not look right at the end of the procedure, it's not going to look any better later on, and no taping or splint is going to achieve the desired result. The time to get it right is the first time.

Dr Wright never believed in any cults or schools of thought about rhinoplasty, although those had developed, and there were many surgeons on different sides of the issue. He never accepted dogma without validating its truth. He always questioned others as to why they performed certain maneuvers, and he himself welcomed being questioned. Sometimes in residency and training programs, we do what was done before and accept that method as the best way to proceed without ever thinking about why we are doing certain procedures. Bill was too much of a thinker to accept tradition over scientific reality. He was one of the first to analyze rhinoplasty procedures in the anatomy lab in order to elucidate what was actually happening. We have Bill Wright to thank for innovative and monumental studies and understanding on osteotomies, rocker deformities, greenstick fractures, and dorsal reductions; it was Bill Wright who developed the Wright stitch for helping to stabilize septal fragments in the midline.

When Wilfred Goodman started to popularize the open rhinoplasty approach, Dr Wright, along with Jack Anderson, decided to investigate this method thoroughly despite years of success using the endonasal approach. During my fellowship, I witnessed Bill Wright do 100 consecutive open rhinoplasties at a time when making an incision across the columella was blasphemy to some. He had the courage and scientific interest to proceed, but he also had the expertise based on thousands of closed rhinoplasties to know exactly what to do. It was fascinating for me to see a new method being tried and expanded by a scientist at a time when it was thought of as an experimental and even inappropriate procedure. Now, for me to witness its total acceptance gives wonderful validation to Dr Wright's work. It was also Bill Wright who taught me how to repair septal perforations via the open approach, a technique that has continued to be successful for me ever since.

Dr Wright believed thoroughly in the specialty of facial plastic surgery and was one of the founding physicians of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, for which he had served on several committees. In 1970, he assumed the national presidency of that organization. As I spoke with several of his contemporaries, they described Bill not as a politician but rather as an individual who was the conscience of the Facial Plastic Academy. Dr Wright lectured extensively at educational symposia here in the United States. His reputation was such that he was asked to lecture all over the world as a guest speaker and visiting professor.

On a personal level, Bill was a gem. He valued the opinion of all those with whom he came into contact, whether it be a world-renowned surgeon or a medical student or resident. He honestly wanted to know everyone's ideas and opinions, being open to the thoughts of all, even the ingenue. He encouraged the thought processes and asked deep and probing questions that would make a student out of anyone. What was most remarkable about him was that he never felt a need to promote himself or to be in the limelight. He never exhibited the bravura so common to others in his field. Rather, he practiced self-effacement and at the same time steadily continued doing scientific studies and superb surgery and adding so much to our literature. Bill Wright was everyone's friend. He spoke well of all with whom he came into contact, never had a bad word to say about anyone, and always found something to praise. What a legacy Bill Wright has left as a wonderful leader, surgeon, scientist, and friend.