Pondering ancient civilizations on his world travels inspired Bill Wright to become a Laurel Ridge Community College adjunct history instructor.
It just took him decades to realize that dream. Along the way he taught English as a Second Language to thousands of middle and high schoolers and developed a passion for playing the bagpipes.
Wright is just one of many Laurel Ridge faculty members with fascinating professional and personal experiences under their belts.
“For years, I was one of those Bohemian starving artist types,” he said. “I lived in New York City for a while. Many, many years ago, I was traveling around the Mediterranean, hitchhiking actually, around the Mediterranean with a girlfriend. Late one night on the west coast of Greece, we got picked up by the mayor of this little town and he entertained us for three or four days.”
He recalled getting up one morning and walking up a hill and looking over that small town, seeing the ruins of a 15th-century Venetian fort, the Greco-Roman ruins of a basilica, and a minaret, the only part left from an Ottoman mosque.
“I thought, I’m going to go back to the United States and I’m going to teach world history,” said Wright, who also toured pyramids, temples and tombs in Egypt, Israel and Syria. “It only took me 40 years to realize that dream. Laurel Ridge allowed me to realize that dream.”
After graduating from Pennsylvania State University with an art degree, Wright joined the Peace Corps. He lived in the Sultanate of Oman from 1978-1980.
“It was exotic,” Wright said. “It was like a 15th-century country coming into the 20th in about 10 years. It was a very interesting place. The people were warm, friendly, there were really neat customs. I enjoyed it a lot.”
After his return to the U.S., Wright spent about 25 years teaching high school ESL classes in Arlington. He then taught middle school classes in Warrenton. While doing that, he earned his master’s degree in history from George Mason University.
After earning his master’s, he started teaching world civilizations at Laurel Ridge in 2014.
Today, Wright lives on a Christmas tree and English boxwood farm in Marshall with his wife of 37 years. And, he is part of the City of Winchester Pipes and Drums.
“I’ve been playing pipes for 50 years,” Wright said. “I started when I was living in New York.”
One of his roommates went to India and learned to play the sitar.
“It occurred to me if he can play this goofy instrument, why can’t I play something?” Wright recalled. “I found a teacher who was basically the best player in New York.”
He has played the bagpipes at the National Cathedral and in the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival’s Grand Feature Parade. The band recently played a specially-composed march for Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee in June in Williamsburg, and will perform at the Virginia Scottish Games in The Plains Labor Day weekend.
Wright has also played for special occasions at Laurel Ridge, such as dual-enrollment graduation ceremonies, in addition to weddings and funerals.
“The cool thing about playing pipes is you never know where you’re going to end up, or who you’re going to be playing for,” he said. “They’re always appreciated. It’s a great instrument.”
While Wright has decided it is time to retire, Laurel Ridge was a great place to pursue his passion for history.
“I just found the college very supportive of everything I was doing,” Wright said. “It’s very nurturing for everybody – the students, as well as faculty. My co-workers are all really interested in doing the greatest possible job. They’re experts in their field, and they’re all doing it for the love of teaching. It’s a calling.
“Most of the adjuncts like me just seem to be of the highest caliber character-wise and expertise-wise. We all agree we could all be sitting around, but here we are because we’ve got something more to give. That’s one of the best things about Laurel Ridge.”
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.