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White Plains Honors Life, Legacy of Community Icon With Street Naming

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Miriam Bright, the daughter of Harry Bright, looks at the new street sign honoring her father seconds after she and White Plains Mayor Tom Roach took off its covering. Harry Bright, who died last summer, was honored on June 28.

Throughout his life, Harry Bright was an imposing figure to many, not just because of his height, which was estimated at about 6-foot-6, but because of the mentorship, love and kindness he bestowed on so many people.

Last Friday, his home community of White Plains honored the former teacher and extraordinary volunteer and public servant by naming the corner of Chatterton and Jefferson avenues Harry Orlo Bright Jr. Way.

For the more than 100 people who attended the hourlong ceremony, there wasn’t a more fitting way to recognize the lifetime of dedication to his community and beyond on what would have been Bright’s 95th birthday. He died last Aug. 4, a little more than two months after the passing of his wife, Beckie.

“He was one of the many people I was very, very fortunate to have in my life that I could look up to, I could model myself after, and as many of us who knew him when we were younger, we knew him as Mr. Bright,” said prominent Westchester attorney Mayo Bartlett, who had known Bright for about 55 years.

“Yes, he was a big, big figure but he was such a loving person, I never really saw how big he was or how imposing physically he could be. I saw a caring loving person who was the neighbor we would want to be.”

It was also fitting that the City of White Plains chose the corner of Chatterton and Jefferson for the street naming. It is home to Chatterton Hill United Church of Christ, which is where Bright and his wife were parishioners for decades.

Although many of the speakers knew Bright in very different capacities and at different junctures in their lives, the messages were strikingly similar, that of a happy, hardworking man always looking to help others.

“I would say with all the things he dealt with in his life and the serious issues he had to take on, he approached people that way everywhere – ‘Hello, hello, I’m glad you’re here,’” said White Plains Mayor Tom Roach. “He started that way with everyone, and I think we all felt it, and that’s why there are so many of us here today to honor him.”

His daughter, Miriam Bright, said he made it his goal to improve the lives of everyone he touched.

“In going forward in today’s world, we cannot say enough about people being kind to one another and working together as mankind to improve the lives of everyone,”  Miriam Bright said. “As we all know, this can be done, and in doing so, it brings one and all happiness, joy and fulfillment. So thank you very, very much in honoring the spirit of my father’s life mission.”

Harry Bright

Azline Suber learned of Bright shortly after relocating to White Plains from Mississippi. Bright helped her get into flight attendant school. In 2005, with family remaining on the Gulf Coast, which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, Bright helped arrange to get her family’s community help.

“Mr. Bright saw something in me,” Suber said. “He took me under his wing, him and his beautiful wife.”

One could say that Bright was a bona fide Renaissance Man. His wide-ranging interests stretched from playing the violin, to golf, to serving on the human rights commissions for White Plains, Westchester County and later the state. He was also an active Rotarian in White Plains.

But for County Executive George Latimer, his first interaction with Bright was as a freshman at Mount Vernon High School. Bright was one of his teachers, and despite him and a friend mouthing off in the back of the classroom, Bright approached them and greeted them similarly to the way Roach had described.

“He was a marvelous man, a marvelous role model for generations of kids,” said Latimer. “A track coach, he helped athletes…grow their talent and go on to have tremendous lives, and the kids that he affected are now the 70-year-old men who have grandkids of their own.”

Byron Smalls of the White Plains Youth Bureau was another person who recalled and described him as a mentor. He said he was happy that the community has celebrated Bright’s work, life and legacy.

“The man is an icon in my world,” Smalls said. “Watching him growing up, as a mentor to me, I just can’t explain how important that was to me, and he is still a mentor to me.”

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