Bobbi Jo’s Second Story

Many know the one that ended in a famous statue, but there’s more 

Bobbi Jo Wright is famous in certain circles for being the girl in the statute, the one who was lifted up and held by the Shriner.

But sometimes, there’s another memory that jumps past the event that led to the sculpture that stands in front of most Shriners Hospitals for Children. It’s the one that happened three years later when a different person lifted her up and brought some much-needed relief during an otherwise difficult summer.  

‘Editorial Without Words’

But first, about the statue: Bobbi Jo was 5 when she attended the Hadi Shriners annual picnic at Mesker Park in Evansville, Indiana. It was June 11, 1970, and Bobbi Jo, who was born with cerebral palsy and was a patient at the St. Louis Shriners Hospital, was excited to be going on the rides.

But the park had gravel walkways, which did not play nicely with the crutches she needed to get around.

Enter Al Hortford, a Hadi Shriner, who saw the little girl struggling and lifted her up to help her get to the next ride.

Nearby stood a photographer by the name of Randy Dieter, who had been assigned to take pictures at the event for the Courier & Journal newspaper. As Al scooped up little Bobbi Jo, Randy saw what would make for a great photo.

There was just one problem: Randy’s camera had a telephoto lens on it, and Al and Bobbi Jo were too close for a telephoto lens. Randy waited until they passed, raised his camera and took the photo that would become the now-famous statue.

He called his photograph “Editorial Without Words,” and it was the perfect representation of the relationship between the Shriners and the patients of the hospital system the group founded in 1922. Ten years later, artist Harrison Covington, sculpted the scene as if the Shriner and Bobbi Jo were walking toward him instead of away.

By the turn of the new millennium, the sculpture had become the defining image of Shriners Hospitals across the country, so much so that, in 2007, as part of a national rebranding, it become its logo.

The photo and sculpture turned Bobbi Jo into something of a celebrity in the Shriners world. She has spent many of her adult years touring the nation attending Shriners events and statue dedications.

That’s the story that has been covered in newspapers and by TV stations across the country. But Bobbi Jo has another story. 

Back before Randy Dieter’s photo became Harrison Covington’s sculpture and Shriners Hospitals’ logo, another image came to mean just as much to Bobbi Jo. It’s not an image captured by a camera lens or an artist’s interpretation. It’s an image that lives only in her heart and through the words she uses to explain it.

A different picture

The year was 1973, and Bobbi Jo had returned to her rural Evansville home after a months-long stay at the St. Louis Shriners Hospital. She was in the middle of about 13 years of surgeries and physical therapy for cerebral palsy that would help pave the way for a brighter future.

This particular afternoon was hot. Very hot. The family home did not have air conditioning. Midwest summer humidity is bad enough, but when you take away cool air and add a body cast to the equation, well, no one would blame Bobbi Jo if she told you she was a bit uncomfortable that day.

Making matters worse, there was nothing on television. Nothing good, anyway. There were four channels providing entertainment at that time, and during the summer of 1973, all of them were bringing the Watergate hearings into family rooms across the country.

But on this day, as the sun descended from its zenith, a visitor arrived – Bobbi Jo’s brother-in-law Michael. Five years earlier, he had married the fifth-oldest child in the family, Mary. Bobbi Jo happens to be one of 11 kids, and no, they’re not Catholic.

Michael and Mary lived in Fort Knox, Ky. Michael was 24 and in the Army, and whenever he had the opportunity, he drove up to Evansville to see Bobbi Jo. On this visit, Michael found an uncomfortable little girl in a body cast and decided to do something.

So he lifted her up, like Al Hortford had done three years earlier. He carried her out to his car and carefully placed her in the back seat. They drove across town, a hot breeze blowing through the open windows, and pulled into the drive-in movie theater.

He exited the car, came around to the back seat and lifted Bobbi Jo once again. This time, the destination was the hood of his car; the windshield was angled perfectly to support Bobbi Jo in her body cast.

The movie was a Western because Michael liked Westerns. Thankful for the opportunity to get out of the house, Bobbi Jo would like Westerns that evening, too.

And so darkness fell, the hot day melting into a warm evening as cowboys did what cowboys do on the movie screen. Bobbi Jo remembers feeling safe, happy, grateful to be out of the house.

Al died in 2009 at the age of 81. Michael passed away five years later, succumbing to a massive heart attack.

What has not passed are the memories of those two men and all the others who helped her as she grew. Bobbi Jo knows that, whether it was Al or other Shriners, whether it was the medical team at Shriners Hospitals or Michael or any of the others in the vast sea of family members, she is where she is today because of the people who were there to lift her up.

“All of my family supported me in various ways however they could,” she said. “Without Shriners Hospital, I know I’d be in a wheelchair by now. Instead, I’m able to get out there and live my life and help make a difference. That’s something special.”


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