[2011 Leadership Winner] Dr. Charles Wright

Features - 2011 Leadership Awards

A researcher, professor, consultant and mentor, Wright inspired the industry with contributions that were ahead of his time.

October 19, 2011

Next time you place your sprayer tip into a crack or crevice to attack cockroaches where they harbor, you may want to express some measure of silent but heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Charles Wright.

With bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in entomology, Wright has both academic and hands-on industry experience in urban entomology. And it is experience that has vastly benefitted both academia and industry. "As a researcher Dr. Wright has done ground-breaking research that has helped to keep the industry on the cutting edge," said Ken Kendall, a long-time colleague who works in the areas of technical services and governmental affairs. "His research on insecticide residues in structures is often cited by current researchers helping to guide them in the right direction for real-world test results in their studies."

As Wright describes in a record of his "memories and life history," the research he conducted while he was a professor at North Carolina State University focused on two categories: cockroaches and their habits and control in structures, and the movement of pesticides to non-target areas in structures after a pest control application. As his research evolved to include testing of new insecticides, formulations and application techniques, insecticide companies began providing partial support of his research to test their products, with one in particular having been of key significance.

Industry Contributions. Wright's achievements cannot fully be discussed without mention of Whitmire Research Laboratories, nor can Whitmire's advances be discussed without mention of Dr. Wright.

In the mid-1960s, Wright said, Whitmire contracted with NCSU for field studies for cockroach control using experimental insecticides. Earlier, Wright said, a company had asked, "'If this pesticide doesn't work, you won't publish, will you?'"

To which Wright responded, "'Yes. Good or bad, we publish.'"

As was to prove to be of vast significance to the industry, Whitmire agreed to the terms of publication and went forward with research sponsorship. In fact, Wright said, "After a few years, they contracted for all available field cockroach control studies in the fall preceding the next year's research."

Through the research, Wright documented that traditional insecticide applications resulted in extensive drift to non-target areas, then showed that targeting pesticides to crack-and-crevice microhabitats that harbor pests not only reduces the amount of insecticide used, but also its translocation and contamination of other surfaces.

According to an NCSU description, "This research led to Whitmire's revolutionary development of targeted, reduced-risk delivery systems, advances that have changed the pest control industry on an international scale. Dr. Wright served as the intellectual inspiration for Mr. [Blanton] Whitmire's ideas, and his NCSU research program generated empirical support for these concepts."

And on November 16, 1987, Wright's contributions were to circle back around for the university, when it received a commitment from Blanton Whitmire for two Whitmire Distinguished Professorships. As a part of the agreement, one of the professorships was to be named in honor of Dr. Wright. The resources of the Entomology Department's Wright Distinguished Professorship are committed exclusively for programs in pest management with a global perspective, through teaching, research and extension.

"Dr. Wright was a leader in air and surface monitoring for insecticide residues indoors after the application of insecticides with various application equipment and different formulations," said David Naffziger, who was a senior research scientist at Whitmire Micro-Gen. "His ethics were impeachable. His work was published in many journals and was available for use by industry."

Field Work. Wright was never one to conduct research, then leave the application to others. Rather, during a stint as technical director for a pest control company, Wright held responsibility not only for technical direction, but also for training, sales, technician support, collections and route supervision.

As such, Wright often worked in the field with the technicians. "I noticed that if technicians didn't have problems in private homes, they would spray the baseboards just to be able to say they were doing something," he said.

"This was not getting to where the pests would be," he said. "So I taught them to apply where there were pests, and if there were none, to just do a thorough inspection."

Giving such advice in the early 1960s was well in advance of techniques many in the industry are still seeking to engender.

"He's been a great urban entomologist," said Gary Bennett, a professor of urban pest management at Purdue University who was Wright's first graduate student. Besides the contributions his research made to the industry, Wright worked with many students in NCSU's associate program, designed to put students into the pest management industry with two-year degrees, Bennett said. "His teaching of those students has directly contributed to the industry with qualified, trained personnel."

Teaching and Training. Of all the positions he has held and contributions he has made, Wright most enjoyed and is most proud of his teaching and training. He loved to work with students, he said. "I'd encourage them; I'd never fuss at them. Because of that, I had a lot of loyalty — and I still do."

That loyalty was evidenced in a recent encounter at a grocery store. "My wife and I were in the store when a person came up to me and said, 'Hi Dr. Wright. I bet you don't remember me.'" Looking him over, Wright admitted that, no, he didn't remember him, to which the man replied, as Wright relayed, "'Twenty years ago I had you for one course. I wanted to tell you that it was the best course I had there.'"

Wright hears such comments often, and they mean a lot to him, he said, because it means that he had an impact on those people. And, he added, "they had an impact on me. I really enjoyed my work."

It isn't just Wright who relays such love and loyalty of his students — at the university and in the field.

"As a teacher, Dr. Wright has excelled," Kendall said. "Charlie has taught a large portion of the North Carolina pest control operators both in his Ag Institute two-year college program at NC State and during numerous training programs in the field.

"As a mentor there is no one better," Kendall continued. "I speak from personal experience when I say that I would not be the person I am or in the position that I am in without Dr. Wright's guidance while a student at NCSU and after graduation."

NCSU Entomology Department research operation manager Gene Dupree took an entomology class with Wright — but only because it was a required course for his declared major, soils. "I soon discovered that there was more to entomology than just insects. I discovered that Dr. Wright was a professor who genuinely was interested in what he taught and was interested in students. I was so impressed by Dr. Wright and his teaching ability that I changed my major from soils to entomology and asked for Dr. Wright to become my advisor."

"His students were always his first love; and he was very well respected by them and throughout the industry," Bennett observed. "Dr. Charles Wright is a recognized pillar in the urban pest control area," Naffziger said. "His teaching and research in this area trained many people in this industry and laid down the research that helped bring in the modern era of scientific pest control."

Wright's retirement from NCSU in 1995 was heralded with an Entomology Department-hosted luncheon that was attended by about 100 people and included speeches by his associates, friends and students.

Since then he has done "what I've always liked to do — travel." Touring with his family in their motor home whenever possible, Wright has been in all 50 states and all 10 Canadian provinces; and when not on the road, he enjoys "keeping busy around the house."

And Wright continues to pursue his love of research, focused now on the genealogy of his family, traveling to meet newly discovered relatives and, once again, publishing articles in his new research field.