Annette John-Hall: Affable, average Joe at Einstein donates and helps allocate charitable funds

At Einstein, security supervisor Andy Wright (right) greets lab tech Hobson Gross. Wright gives $1,500 a year to the foundation. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. And make no mistake, the Albert Einstein Medical Center campus in Olney is Andrew Wright's neighborhood.

"Hey, Andy!"

"Lieutenant Wrong!"

"Andy Dandy!"

Everybody, it seems, knows the affable Andy Wright.

Makes sense, considering that Wright, 58, has worked at Einstein for 43 years - mostly as a security guard and now as a supervisor for 130 officers. If you've worked at the same place for more than half of your life, chances are everyone knows your name.

But I'm guessing not everyone understands the unique relationship Wright enjoys with Einstein. Wright began working there as an escort, or "patient pusher," when he was 15 and a student at Simon Gratz High School. Since then, Einstein has embraced him and matured him, not to mention introducing him to his wife.

And as Linda, Wright's wife of 33 years, fought a losing battle with breast cancer, Einstein comforted him as it cared for her.

Two years later, it was at Einstein that Wright met his current fiancee, Carrie Guest. They plan to wed in May.

"Einstein has done a lot for me," Wright says of the 146-year-old hospital, originally founded to employ unwanted Jewish doctors and to provide care to minorities denied treatment, including escaped slaves. "Thank God, they're still putting up with me."

More than a decade before Linda died, Wright decided to demonstrate his gratitude by donating $1,500 annually to the Albert Einstein Society, the hospital's internal foundation that supports programs and research.

Now, $1,500 a year may not sound like a lot. But for someone without an M.D., Ph.D., or V.P. attached to his name, it's a pretty hefty chunk of change, especially for a father of seven.

Wright got his generous spirit honestly. As the youngest of three children growing up poor in North Philly, he watched as his mother, Mary, a domestic, would cook what she had and invite more-needy neighbors over.

"She cared about everybody," Wright says.

As a teen in the late '60s, Wright started a singing group, the Impalas, and conducted his own brand of charity.

"If we had heard that somebody's house burned down," he says, "we'd have backyard performances for the family, stuff like that."

At Einstein, about 400 of the hospital's 7,500 employees donate to the Einstein Society, contributing $1 or $2 a pay period.

"Andy's probably one of the largest givers" among nonmedical employees, says Caren Moskowitz, the hospital's director of development, who runs the foundation.

Still, Wright never thought he'd have a say in how the foundation used its $500,000 annually to finance new projects. But three years ago, Moskowitz appointed him to the allocation committee to do precisely that.

He's the only member who doesn't have a college degree, but his contributions are valuable.

"He looks at things differently than a vice president would; he looks at things as an everyday Joe," Moskowitz explains. "If we want employees to be part of the Einstein Society, we have to take their opinions into account."


Weighty decisions

So, every couple of months, Wright meets with fellow committee members to screen proposals to fund everything from programs that teach new parents how to swaddle their infants to reduce SIDS deaths, to an underwater rehabilitation program that enables patients to obtain scuba-diving certification.

Admittedly, having such a weighty responsibility scared Wright "down to my socks" during that first year. "But then I asked one question. Then I asked two or three.

"Cancer," Wright replies with no hesitation when I ask him which proposals he is most likely to want to fund. "I see what the grants do. I see what the doctors do. It's no fairy tale, but they do try to save people."

After our interview, Wright walks me to my car. As I go for my wallet to pay for valet parking, Wright tells me to put it away. He had already taken care of the ticket and tipped the attendant.

As Moskowitz says: "He's a good man."


Contact Annette John-Hall

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