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Thompson Park Zoo Executive Director John Wright stepping down; interim replacement named

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It was family first for John T. Wright, executive director of the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park, as he tendered his resignation to take an equivalent position at the Hutchinson Zoo in Kansas.

With a third child on the way this summer, he said, the chance to be a few hours’ drive from his hometown of Kansas City, Mo., where his mother still lives, was too good to pass up.

“It was perfectly timed,” he said Friday afternoon.

Mr. Wright’s resignation, tendered at the start of the week, was announced formally Friday afternoon.

Jayn M. Graves, who previously served for eight years on the Thompson Park Conservancy board, will become the zoo’s interim director until a new director can be hired. Her work history includes time as the chief professional officer of the United Way of Northern New York.

Mr. Wright called the selection of Ms. Graves a “brilliant move.”

In a statement, Ms. Graves said she was pleased to assist the zoo through the transition period.

“The zoo has attracted the talents and gifts of every sector of the community because they have seen the value to children, families, animal rehabilitation, education and old-fashioned fun,” she said. “This transition will be exciting for us as a community and I am looking forward to getting started.”

Mr. Wright assumed the role in February 2011, replacing John Scott Foster. Before coming to Watertown, he served as general curator for the Hattiesburg, Miss., Zoo.

He said he was thankful for the chance to lead the zoo’s passionate and dedicated staff, who treated their work as “a labor of love.”

Among the big changes at the zoo during Mr. Wright’s tenure were the removal of its aging aviary and the creation of the Karl R. Burns Pavilion. He was credited with improving the building that housed the zoo’s night exhibits and launching the Holiday Lights and Zoo Year’s Eve events.

Mr. Wright said he thought his best work came in improving the small details that made the zoo experience better for regular visitors.

He said he will talk to Ms. Graves about setting a final day in Watertown, as she acclimates to the temporary role.

Justin Howard, vice chairman of the conservancy board, said the board was thankful for Mr. Wright’s contributions during his tenure, and wished him the best of luck in his new job.

He said the board was looking forward to working with Ms. Graves during the next few months.

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