The history of the pest management industry can’t be written without several chapters being devoted to PMP Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Charles G. Wright.
“He’s been involved in almost all phases of what a land grant university offers to the pest management industry: research, teaching, working with the industry on continuing education, training, education,” says Gary Bennett, a professor of entomology and director of the Center for Urban Pest Management at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. Bennett is also a PMP Hall of Famer — and Wright’s first graduate student.
Combine that with Wright’s role as the first state inspector of structural pest control in the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, and his contributions to regulatory oversight at the state and national levels, and the impact of his research on an international scale, and it’s easy to see the impact he has had on the industry.
“He’s kind of like the Godfather of the pest control industry, when you look at what he’s done,” says Billy Tesh, founder and president of Pest Management Systems, Greensboro, N.C., and another of Wright’s former students.
A Lifetime of Education
“I’ve devoted my career to the pest control industry,” Wright says. “It’s a big honor to join those inducted into the PMP Hall of Fame. I have a high respect for them.”
Wright was the first member of his family to continue his education beyond high school. He went to North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 1952 as a graduate student, following time in the U.S. Army, where he worked in the Army Chemical Center. Wright later became the technical director for Wilson Exterminating Co. Those five years working in the field would have a huge influence when he later moved to the classroom.
“He had some on-the-job experience and the type of training needed to present to pest management technicians,” Bennett says. “So when he went to NC State, he continued to do that as part of his appointment. He offered broad training to the industry as a whole.”
Not only did Wright take his students into the field to experience real-world pest management situations, he never let his students leave the educational realm. He would call former students looking for various insects, or he would ask them to join him in the classroom and lecture about what it means to be in the pest control industry.
“He said, ‘You’re here not to learn everything. You’re here to start learning how to learn about this industry,’” Tesh recalls. “That’s astounding. It begins with that footing of knowledge. Not any one person knows it all.”
Wright listened to his own advice and developed a relationship with fellow PMP Hall of Famer Blanton J. Whitmire, the founder and former president and CEO of Whitmire Research Laboratories. The pair was among the first to investigate and document how traditional application methods led to pesticide drift, which meant pesticide residue was found in unwanted places. Their work led to the standard crack-and-crevice treatments in use today.
Wright’s ties to Whitmire led to a $4 million donation to NCSU, at the time the largest individual gift to the university. It led to the establishment of two endowed professorships in entomology. He also was able to secure private funds to establish two graduate fellowships within the Urban Entomology program at NCSU.
Focus on Cockroaches
In addition to his work with Whitmire, Wright became one of the leading experts on German cockroaches. He worked closely and extensively with the pest control industry to help professionals with their German cockroach management programs.
Whether it was field or laboratory research, the classroom or working with pest management companies, Wright was always focused on furthering knowledge.
“One of the things that he always prided himself in was advancing the educational component of our industry, and getting people to understand not only why we use pesticides, but also the insects that we’re controlling and how that gives us the ability to do a better job,” Tesh says.
Tesh recalls that Wright had a winning way of doing that.
“He has a unique sense of humor,” Tesh continues. “He would educate by making things fun. Entomology can be a boring thing if you’re just looking at the insects and the life cycles, and the different components of those different species. He made it interesting enough that people got engaged in his classes and, as a result, always seemed to do better.”
And the industry is better for it.
“In addition to being a really nice guy and a positive person, Dr. Wright truly has the interests of the pest management industry at heart,” Bennett says of his mentor. “Everything he did as part of his job was to help improve the industry, help it grow and develop.”
And while Wright might not agree with the level of influence, like the Godfather from the movies, his life has touched so many others.
“It makes me feel good,” Wright says of his time working in the industry and training generations of pest management professionals. “To me, it’s life well spent.”