From the moment she entered the world, Bonnie Wright was destined to serve others. She brought that sense of service to Hemet in 1983, where she became visible as a businesswoman with her full-service optical store in the Hemet Valley Mall. Later moving to a strip mall and serving the community of Hemet for 18 years.
“I’ve always felt a sense of duty to others. It seems to be a part of who I am.,” She says. “While operating the optical business in Hemet, I decided to go back to school in 1996 after my sons were grown to pursue a Dr. Of Optometry degree. With all the other things I had going on in my life, although eleven units short of obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree, and working in the optics field for many years, the School of Optometry in Fullerton was willing to accept me as a student, allowing me to fulfill the last few units of my Bachelor’s.
I considered going back to school to satisfy the requirements. However, about the same time, HMOs were taking over in the medical industry and providing much fewer reimbursements for services. That makes me decided to let that wait for a while. In retrospect, I wish I had done so.”
In addition to the business, she joined Kiwanis and was on the board for many years, including two terms as president and received the Kiwanis Distinguished President Award.” Among her other many appointments over the ensuing years, she was Chairman of the Hemet Valley Chamber of Commerce and chosen as Citizen of the Year in 2000. She was involved in the Valley Economic Development Corporation and THE Center as a board member for eleven years and counting. Served as a board member during the inception of The Children’s Museum, and in Soroptimists for a short time. Citizen of the year, Kiwanis Distinguished Person Award at Kiwanis.
Between 2000 and 2001 she took a position with Golden Village RV Resort in Hemet as Events Director. “I had been in the optical business for 26 years, and it was time to make a change. The business climate at the time was somewhat uncertain. However, right after the terrorist attack on New York’s Twin Towers, I had the opportunity that changed my life. I had never been interested in politics when I started working in the offices of Congresswoman Mary Bono. I developed the utmost respect for her and loved the work. It was difficult to leave her and the position I loved and his position. I loved our ability to help people, to be working at something so much larger than myself.
When I could make a difference in someone else’s life, it made the efforts worthwhile. When we were able to cut through the red tape and help veterans to obtain their benefits in a couple of months, it meant everything to me. Politics had little or no appeal to me before that.” After seven years, she began to consider the possibilities that a member of Congress had no assurance of employment beyond their current two-year term. That gave her pause to think about her future. “I decided to move on because of my security. Even so, it was a tough decision because I was leaving an employer that I respected and admired.”
She voted with her gut feelings, even when staff may have had other ideas, which wasn’t often. She always did her research before coming to any decisions. It impressed me that she placed the right thing above any political goal. That had a significant influence on me.
What motivated her to run for political office? “If anyone had told me that I would run for City Council, I would have told them they were a little bit off. But one should never say never because circumstances change and we are all motivated by a cause. I am a staunch believer of home rule, so when certain elements wanted to eliminate our fire department and hire the county to fight our fires, it was time to stand up for the right cause. When responsibilities are placed in the hands of an outside organization, the city loses and no longer has any say-so over its destiny. I believe that is the wrong way to operate a city. I did not want us to lose control of one of our most important safety organizations. I knew I could fight for it and knew that once committed I would not back away. More importantly.”
And that was her reason to run for office. She ran for a seat being vacated by Councilman Foreman. Rick Crimeni ran for the same position and seemed to be leading and was thought to win. “On election night Rick, myself and several others were hanging out at The Brickyard on Harvard Street waiting for the returns. Rick was running ahead of me. The final vote count was not available for two or three weeks. We were all certain he had beat me, and I was congratulating him. As a nobody from nowhere, I was astonished that I survived and found myself as a City Council Woman.”
Since that time, she has been re-elected and served as Mayor twice. As to whether she will run again next year, she is the typical politician. “I don’t know,” she says with enough hesitation to make suspect that she will. Once again, as she aims her arrows into the future, she adds, “It is becoming harder and harder to stay in California.” She also believes people have the wrong impression as to how much authority as a rotating mayor has. “The only thing that I do differently is to run the meeting and have more ceremonial duties. It is not like an elected mayor who answers to the voters individually. It takes 3 out of 5 votes to get anything done under a city manager form such as we have in Hemet.”
I gathered that she would prefer an elected mayor rather than a ceremonial one. In conclusion, I asked what she saw for herself up to the road. “I’ve always enjoyed painting during my leisure time. I haven’t had much of in several years. I love working with oils and acrylics and also portraits. Something I thoroughly enjoy and certainly miss.”
She did mention that retirement would help her do that as well as having more time to spend with her granddaughters and family. However, I got the impression that retirement is an alien vista for this lady who has devotion to others written in her persona. I came away from my interview with the distinct impression that Ms. Wright will be foraging about seeking new ways to be of service to others. Amazing the opinions, we have people until we sit down and have one on one conversation with them.
The Chronicle and this reporter are pleased to honor her with this week’s Profile in Service. [email protected]