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North Texas Congressman Ron Wright Dies After Testing Positive For COVID-19

Photograph of Ron Wright dressed in a blazer and bow tie holds a microphone and talks to a crowd at a restaurant in Arlington in 2018. In the background, a white banner with blue and red lettering reads Arlington Republican Club.
Christopher Connelly
/
KERA News
Ron Wright addressed primary voters at an Arlington Republican Club event in 2018.

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, who rose through the ranks of Tarrant County and Republican politics to represent North Texas in Congress, died Sunday at age 67.

Wright is the first sitting member of Congress to die after contracting COVID-19. He was being treated for lung cancer when he tested positive for the coronavirus.

The official cause of death wasn't immediately released; he and his wife were admitted to a Dallas hospital in recent weeks with COVID-19. Wright announced in January that he had tested positive.

A statement issued by Wright's Congressional office said he “will be remembered as a constitutional conservative. He was a statesman, not an ideologue.” Wright fought “for individual freedom, Texas values, and above all, the lives of the unborn.”

Funeral services for Rep. Ron Wright will begin with a public viewing from 2 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 19, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The viewing is open to the public and will be followed by a rosary.

The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Texas Ballroom at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth. The Rev. Michael Olson, bishop of the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese, will lead the service which includes a Mass and a short tribute. The service is open to the public.

More information can be found here.

Wright was re-elected in November to his second term representing the 6th Congressional District, which includes parts of Tarrant County, plus Ellis and Navarro counties.

Earlier, he served on the Arlington City Council and worked for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, the man he would replace in Congress. In 2012, Wright was elected Tarrant County's tax assessor-collector.

The statement from his Congressional office said: "Over the past few years, Congressman Wright had kept a rigorous work schedule on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and at home in Texas’ Congressional District 6 while being treated for cancer. For the previous two weeks, Ron and Susan had been admitted to Baylor Hospital in Dallas after contracting COVID-19.”

Wright's politics were decidedly conservative. One of his last acts in Congress was to object to 2020 presidential election results in Pennsylvania and Arizona.

In a 2018 interview with KERA, Wright recalled his days as Tarrant County tax assessor-collector.

“I put ‘In God We Trust’ on all the tax statements in Tarrant County,” he said. “And I knew I’d catch a lot of flack from the left. I did. Lot of people threatened to sue me. I said ‘bring it.’ And they backed off. Nobody ever did.”

Wright said people should expect him to stand for small government.

“I’m going there to cut spending, not increase it,” he said. “Your measure is somebody that will bring home the bacon, I’m not your guy.”

But then COVID-19 hit last year, and unemployment surged. Wright admitted it felt strange to be voting for massive federal relief packages, but he did.

Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams knew Wright for 20 years.

“He very much was a conservative and yet he knew in times of trouble that you sometimes have to spend money,” Williams said.

Williams lauded Wright’s role in creating the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, which supports charities in the area.

Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Rick Barnes said as a politician, Wright was willing to talk to anyone. Barnes called him the “consummate optimist.”

“He was optimistic about the future, he was optimistic about opportunities,” Barnes said. “And any time you have a chance to be around someone that’s that positive, it wears off on you.”

In a statement, Barnes said Wright "served his constituents with honor and grace." He described the congressman as "a true statesman and one of the most beloved political figures in Tarrant County."

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said she was a personal friend of Wright and his wife Susan for 20 years.

"Having Ron succeed me in the tax office and see his hard work as Tarrant County tax assessor, I know first hand that we were very blessed in North Texas to have this passionate advocate serving," she said.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called Wright “a principled leader who fought to preserve Texas values and was an exemplary representative of his district.”

“His personal strength and commitment to standing up for the unborn were unwavering. He leaves behind a tremendous legacy for future generations of Texans.”

Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn said Wright was “a Texan first and foremost” and “a passionate public servant and a strong advocate for Texas values, his neighbors in North Texas, and constituents across Texas’ 6th District.”

The 6th Congressional District includes Arlington and other parts of Tarrant County and stretches into the rural areas south of North Texas, including Waxahachie and Corsicana.

Jana Lynne Sanchez, the Democrat who lost to Wright in 2018, said: "While we shared our differences, we both ran for Congress for the same reason: to fight for the people of North Texas. He served with passion while battling cancer and a deadly virus that has claimed far too many lives far too soon.”

At least 50 members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19. In December, Louisiana Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, a 41-year-old Republican, died after testing positive for the coronavirus, just days before he would have been sworn in for the 117th session of Congress.

Wright's Bio

  • A sixth-generation resident of Tarrant County. Graduated from Azle High School in 1971; moved to Arlington to attend UT-Arlington.
  • Served on the Arlington City Council from 2000 to 2008. District director for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton from 2000 to 2009 and was Barton's chief of staff from 2009 to 2011. In 2011, Wright accepted an appointment to be Tarrant County's tax assessor-collector of Tarrant County; elected to the position in 2012, re-elected in 2016; elected to Congress in 2018.

Source: Wright's Congressional office

This is a developing story and will be updated. The Associated Press, NPR and Texas Tribune contributed to this report.

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