The Doug Wright Awards paid heartfelt tribute this week following news of the loss of longtime patron Phyllis Wright Thomas, the widow of Canadian cartoonist Doug Wright (for whom the awards are named after). Wright Thomas passed away Sunday July 9 2023, age 93. 

Phyllis Wright Thomas was a continuous presence at the awards since their inception and considered the key link between the legendary artist and a then-nascent Canadian comic award, over twenty years since the passing of Douglas Austin “Doug” Wright in 1983, at the age of 65. The first award took place in 2005. Phyllis was also the inspiration behind the mother figure depicted in Doug Wright’s popular weekly comic strip Doug Wright’s Family, which ran in the Montreal Standard/The Weekend Magazine and The Canadian from 1949 to 1980.

On their website Doug Wright Awards Executive Director Conan Tobias wrote:

“We often referred to Phyllis as our biggest supporter, and that wasn’t hyperbole. Along with allowing us to use her late husband’s name, characters, and artwork to symbolize the Canadian comics industry as a whole, Phyllis attended nearly every Doug Wright Awards ceremony. And when COVID, and later her declining health, prevented her from being with us in person, she taught herself how to tune in on YouTube so she wouldn’t miss a thing. It won’t be the same not having her there in the front row, or least being able to give her a wave through the screen.”

Brad Mackay, Doug Wright Award co-founder, and co-editor of The Collected Doug Wright, talks about the initial meetings with Phyllis when the award organisation was just an idea, in 2003:

“She was very kind and listened to our pitch, but I could sense skepticism. I don’t blame her. Her husband had been gone for twenty years at that point and was quickly dissipating from the cultural zeitgeist. And I was a general assignment reporter with not much to show for my then young newspaper career, not to mention zero experience in building and running an awards org…”

“But, after an hour or so spent listening to our plans she warmed up to the idea, then asked us if we wanted to look at some of Doug’s scrapbooks and original art. Looking back on it now, this was probably her way of showing me that I passed the test. “

Mackay added:

“About those ceremonies. Phyllis attended almost all of them, to the point where I think she genuinely looked forward to the evening. Who was hosting this year? Where will it be? Will her daughter Clara be there? These were some of the questions she peppered me with in the weeks before the big night. This, despite having to endure a fair share of outrageous—and frankly lewd—on-stage jokes and comments, a reality of live events. 

“But she never once complained, walked out, or threatened to remove Doug’s name from the awards. Her reaction was usually, “Well, that was interesting.” And there she was the next year, asking me about the show and who was going to be our host. So, I want to thank her for trusting us and being a good sport during the past two decades. (I’m not sure that Doug, if he was still around, would have been as patient and forgiving.)“ 

Award co-founder, The Collected Doug Wright co-editor, and renowned cartoonist Seth also paid tribute, capturing her personality:

“Phyllis Wright Thomas was someone I admired. She made an immediate impression. I first met her many years ago, when Chris Oliveros, Brad Mackay, and I made the pilgrimage down to Tillsonburg, Ontario, to discuss the possibility of making a book about her late husband Doug. I didn’t know what to expect of her. I suppose I imagined some demure little old lady. Far from it.

“Phyllis was a commanding presence. I do not mean that in any rude way. Often when people speak in terms of eulogy, phrases like that are code words meaning someone was difficult. Phyllis was not difficult. Quite the opposite. Approachable, kind, helpful, engaged. And she had gravity—forthright, direct, unsentimental, a doer. The kind of person who makes a decision and then gets down to the details and makes it happen. Perhaps that sounds too businesslike. I wouldn’t limit her in that manner. She had such a smiling quality about her too. Sweet. Funny. Over the many years I knew her she took Brad and me under her wing, a bit like a mother hen. And between the three of us we often joked about this, enjoying our roles as adopted sons.”

You can read the tributes in full here.