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Connecting curious minds with uncommon, undeniably Northwest reads

How family secrets led to a book

Photo of various old medical supplies, medical bags, and a microscope

Some families are full of storytellers, and Robert Wright was fortunate to grow up in such a clan. As a young boy, he eagerly absorbed his physician grandfather’s thrilling tales about medical practice on the frontier West—of performing operations by lantern light and braving avalanches while traveling to remote patients by dogsled. He asked question after question about sights, sounds, smells, emotions, and thoughts. Yet as he grew older, Wright became aware of an unspoken past. There were certain topics they never discussed. Who was the girl in the photograph on the dresser? Why hadn’t he ever met his spirited Aunt Jean, a lively part of so many of his grandfather’s anecdotes?

The mysteries behind the questions drove him to delve deeper, and he resolved to fully capture and recount the beloved Doc’s exciting life. So as a teenager, before they were no longer around to ask, Wright would sit cross-legged on the floor with a typewriter propped before him, grilling his elders for details, tapping the keys to record their answers. He did eventually uncover those family secrets, but he still needed to expand beyond a personal history to make it a complete story.

To achieve a cohesive manuscript, the Hailey, Idaho native spent nearly two decades gathering information, conducting interviews, speaking with a variety of medical specialists—a University of Washington professor, pediatric heart surgeon, even a gynecologist, and ear, nose, and throat specialist. He researched the time period, reading history books and texts on everything from steam locomotives to sled dogs to the hats and shoes people wore. He visited locations and wrote seemingly endless revisions. A devastating loss of his own enriched his portrayals of events.

Wright’s lifelong dedication finally paid off when WSU Press agreed to publish Rugged Mercy: A Country Doctor in Idaho’s Sun Valley, making his grandfather’s captivating stories available to the world, secrets and all.

 

Photo of Jean Wright from 1918
Jean Wright in 1918