Connie Wright’s son Alex posted the following to Facebook: Sadly this week Topanga has lost a colorful giant and longtime community leader. At 5’1” Connie Wright was an amazing force to be reckoned with. She had an indomitable spirit and was well known to be feisty and frank when telling you the way she saw it. She was full of life and passionate about everything she did. She was a true “ball buster” and could raise hell with ease. In her day, she set a standard of honesty and integrity in Topanga Real Estate that was hard to match.
While traveling throughout Europe at 19, she met her fun, ukulele-playing, Fijian husband, Oscar Wright, in Majorca Spain. They moved to Fiji. From Fiji to Topanga as a widow, she raised her two boys, Tui and Alex, alone. She retired from Coast & Canyon Realtors and moved to Mexico but would visit Topanga, France, and friends often, for 30 years.
A world traveler and gifted artist, her passion was painting in her beloved France, and, of course, her four grandchildren. She lived her life on her own terms, independent and a workaholic, she believed that every day should be ended with a good glass of wine or two.
She passed away at 88, peacefully in her home in Calabasas.
Constance Virginia Milhomme was born in Tenafly, New Jersey on April 4, 1931, the first-born child of Eva Bracco and Alexander Milhomme. A younger brother Phillip was born five years later, and shortly thereafter their mother passed away. Her father remarried a woman named Maude and had two more children. Connie would never warm to Maude.
Outspoken from the get-go, she never hesitated to say what was on her mind and her candid approach did not always serve her well. Sent to a Catholic boarding school she had the audacity to question the Mother Superior about the Immaculate Conception. When she argued with the response given by the Reverend Mother, she was expelled from the school. They called her father and told him to come and get her.
Eventually, Connie finished one year of college, came into an inheritance from her mother’s estate and, at the tender age of 17, set off to see the world, ending up on the island of Majorca, Spain. There she met a handsome rascal, Henry “Oscar” Wright. Oscar was a half-English, half-Fijian boat captain who traveled the world. He worked at various times with fisheries in Melbourne and trained the shrimp fleet workers in what was then the Persian Gulf. In Fiji, he ran tours on the Blue Lagoon where the movie by the same name was filmed. He became a very close friend of Errol Flynn, a rather infamous movie star of swashbuckling film history.
Oscar was 17 years older than Connie, who was 19 at the time. Somehow, the two of them were a match from the get-go and he followed her when she left to become the editor for a magazine in Memphis, TN. Their first child was referred to as Tui (“king” or “it” in Fijian) even before he was born and though they named him Henry Oscar Wright after his father, the nickname Tui stuck. Within a few years they moved to San Diego, and in 1961 a second son, Alexander Milhomme Wright, was born. Three-year-old Tui had trouble pronouncing Alex and it came out “Alou.” When the Wrights moved on to Fiji the nickname stuck, to the amusement of the Fijians, as in their language Alou means “potato.”
In 1966, the relationship between Connie and Oscar became strained and, with the boys in tow, she flew back to the states. Shortly thereafter, Oscar had a serious heart attack and died, and the newly widowed mother of two free-spirited little boys went to work in Downtown L.A. as a buyer, first for May Company and eventually for the upscale Bullocks Department Store.
She moved her little family into the Old Canyon apartments in Topanga and soon made her mark on her new community, often relying on the good will of other parents who were constantly on the lookout for what mischief the two little boys might get into, as well as their welfare.
My first real encounter with Connie was over cigarette butts. I was a heavy smoker and had run out of my crutch. Connie was one of the few mothers living across the street who actually smoked. I didn’t know her but heard that she had recently arrived in the states from Fiji. She was out of cigarettes, too, but had a few Pall Mall butts lying around in ashtrays and we puffed away at what was left. That was the beginning of a great friendship that would last through the smoke and thick-and-thin of all the years to come.
Connie had somehow latched onto a lovely old blue-and-white Buick, the kind with the buck-teeth and portholes. Short-sized Connie could hardly see over the dashboard. I remember our first tour of the Community House when the old driveway led up to a parking lot on a cliff. As we prepared to leave the lot and approached the downward driveway we were literally perched on the edge. It was a leap of faith to continue on when the road couldn’t be seen over the dash and it felt like we were about to fly off into the wild blue yonder. We went everywhere in that grand old car with our four boys.
We went to Point Fermin. Connie had heard that it was a great place! We arrived to find a very steep treacherous path down a rocky cliff with warning signs posted everywhere. Apparently, it had been badly damaged by a storm. But the tide pools were full of small sea creatures and the delighted boys began immediately gathering tiny crabs and other crawly things. We ate some take-out and used the small cardboard baskets to house their findings for the trip home. As we drove away from the park, Connie began to shriek. Apparently the crabs had found their way out of the baskets and were running across her toes as she drove along in her bare feet.
She was a gourmet cook and her fare was almost always a smashing success! She would purchase some kind of white fish and marinate it in lemon juice with sour cream long before sushi became a word in our language. It was wonderful! We had a couple of small abalone from the Fermin trip and anybody who knows abalone also knows that it has to be seriously tenderized before cooking. Connie had an unusual but quite effective method of doing so. She placed the toughies on a plank in the driveway, put another plank on top of them and then drove the Buick back and forth over the top board.
Oh yeah! It was definitely tender!
Unfortunately, one night Connie managed to dump the Buick upside down in the creek off Old Canyon Road. She escaped with only two black eyes but that event ended our tours in that grand old car.
Over the years, Connie managed to live in just about every part of Topanga. In the late 1960s, her landlady raised the rent and Connie, along with most of our friends from the apartments, was forced to move.
After a short stay in an apartment on the Boulevard she moved to a house on the lower Fernwood loop. Here she had a lovely living room with steps up to her spacious bedroom but the boys were pretty much stuck in a closet-like area. It wasn’t grand, but it sufficed for the moment. During this time she added an old wooden coffin to her living room furniture and it served as both seat and coffee table. It always kinda gave me the creeps.
Her next move was to a house halfway up Grandview, and here she stayed for several years. Tui and Alou were nearly teens and could not abide being in the same bedroom, so Connie gave up her space to Alou and she slept in the living room. Here she really made herself at home, redid the kitchen walls with blow-ups of pics of herself as a child and found a lifelong friend in Charlie Viles, a local handyman carpenter who lived across the street. Years later, at his memorial she would learn that he was also quite a mentor to her children and had taught them just about every skill he knew.
Unfortunately, again, the landlady raised the rent beyond her means, and Connie had to move. In desperation, we agreed that she should stay with me at my rental on Rosario until she could find something reasonable. Having four boys under the same roof is like living in a shed full of firecrackers. You never know when something’s going to go off.
The most noteworthy transgression was one involving a neighbor boy who had a rifle. Tui, Alou and my oldest son, Greg, all went with this youngster into the state park to practice shooting things. After a few shots some hikers reported them to the ranger and the sheriff was called in. Tui was handcuffed, but somehow the three managed to escape and make it back to the house where my son, Chris, did his best to saw off the cuffs. I came home from work to find a squad car in my driveway and the sheriff in my house. Connie was trying to handle the conversation with the deputy when my youngest went into the next room and said just loud enough to hear it, “Fu_k!” And I thought, “Oh G_d. Here we go!!”
The deputy started on a tirade about the language but he was stopped short by a very leveling statement, “All teenage boys say f_ck!” as Connie took it from there. The astounded deputies backed off, the climate calmed and tension melted away. She had a way! Thereafter she saw to it that Tui went to special classes to learn the proper way of handling guns. Later on in life he was to become a deputy sheriff.
Connie hated camping! We were still in Old Canyon on our first such adventure when she agreed to join me and my boys at Leo Carrillo Beach. We had no tent, but we built a fire, cooked some barbeque, blew up our air mattresses, spread out our sleeping bags, and snuggled in to go to sleep. There was some kind of commotion in a nearby tent, and all of a sudden Connie said in a whispered croak, “They’re doing it! They’re doing it! They’re doing it!” She seemed to have that intuitive and rather embarrassing way of interpreting any sound! At any rate, her mattress went flat in the night and her enthusiasm for camping went with it.
While she was still living with me, she determined that she and the boys would join an old neighbor of theirs, Mr. Whitmore, in his RV on a campout to San Felipe where Tui could go duck hunting. Knowing her proclivity for camping, I got her a sweatshirt with the words, “Regular Camper Connie” on the back. The front had a picture of a gorilla encircled with her mantra, “Don’t Bother Me. I Can’t Cope!” It suited her well.
She hated the trip because Mr. Whitmore had no respect for her gourmet cooking and insisted that everything be overdone. They returned with a freezer full of ducks which Tui had shot, so we had to eat them. Even the “gourmet cook” couldn’t alter the fact that they just plain tasted like mud.
The trip, however, wasn’t a total loss. Mr. Whitmore decided to live in his RV and rent out his tiny house to Connie, so she was once again on Grandview across from her old rental and on the same side of the street as her dear friend, Charlie.
It was in the early seventies, about the same time I met my husband-to-be Richard, that Connie began her adventure into real estate. She started with a Malibu outfit, Red Carpet. I laughed at her first transaction, the rental of a small piece of property to a worm farmer, but she made it into the “Million Dollar Club” that first year. Shortly thereafter she co-founded Coast & Canyon Realtors in Malibu and Topanga and began a long, impressive career in which she made and helped many friends.
Karen Dannenbaum said Connie was her mentor at Coast & Canyon and also gave unsolicited but helpful advice, i.e., “You girls shouldn’t shower every day. It’ll ruin your skin,” as well as not to wear jeans and to “always assume the other person (other agent) isn’t going to do their job and you have to do everything!” She had Karen performing some exceptional tasks like going under a house which was on the market to check things out. One house had a leaky dugout cellar. “It was very scary and dark!” but Karen did it anyway. Karen adds, “She knew everything! She knew everybody! She was funny every damned day!”
According to close pal and horsewoman, Jill Waldron, Connie not only found her the property she needed in order to raise and train her horses but also helped her get a loan that she could manage.
When Barbara Campbell, who worked with Connie at Coast & Canyon, lost her son, Shawn, in an automobile accident, Connie came asking, “Can I help you, Barbara? What do you need?”
Barbara responded that she could help her clean house. House cleaning was never Connie’s forte, but now she did everything, ordered everybody around and got it all organized. When Barbara mentioned how dirty it had been, Connie responded, “You don’t know what dirty is!”
Mary Colvig, a single mother of three small children, had many jobs, one of them managing the original Topanga Messenger. Connie would come to the Messenger office every two weeks, hold court (give her opinion on the lead story), after which she gave freely of her time to proofread. Most importantly, when Mary lost the back half of her Old Canyon property to the creek, Connie built a fire under Richard Sherman (Topanga Underground) to “Come right now and help Mary!” He wrote a proposal for the FDA loan so Mary could install an extensive wire fence. Somehow, Connie managed to get the neighbors to pay for it.
When I had to move from Old Canyon in 1971, Connie was there for me. She made room for me and my boys while I searched for a new rental. She was there with me again, sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor in front of the elevators at UCLA hospital, when my ten-year-old son, who had fallen from a horse, had a life-threatening lesion in his liver. She was there for me 15 years later, when that same child was killed in an automobile accident on Pacific Coast Highway. Finally, in 2001, she postponed one of her many trips to France in order to be with me when my husband Richard died.
Connie finally retired from real estate and moved to Mexico permanently circa 1993. She had taken up painting and created a rather amazing collection of scenes from various places in Mexico and France, mostly in her favorite haunt, Provence. Thirty of her French scenes were on display at La Frite French Restaurant in Woodland Hills for two years. Many of them sold.
Many phrases became Connie-isms to her friends. If she thought your notion didn’t meet her standards, she would start her objection with, “Don’t be silly!” Her children knew she had pertinent advice when she responded to them with, “Get your head on straight!” She was also constantly saying “All I want is peace and quiet!”
I’d say, “Rest in peace now, Guapa,” but then I’d have to say to myself, “Don’t be silly! That was never your style! Godspeed, Connie! You are forever missed!”
Connie is survived by her sons, Tui and Alou Wright, grandsons Jordan, Biko, and Kalou Wright, granddaughter Lavennia Wright, and great grandson, Ocean Wright. Additionally, her two half-siblings, Leonie Milhomme Brinkema (yes, the judge in the Moussaoui trial) and Alexander Milhomme are still living. Her full brother, Phillip Milhomme, passed away a few years ago.
A memorial for Connie will be held at the Community House, 1440 N Topanga Cyn Blvd on Saturday, February 29, from 12–4 p.m. Bring a dish to share, if you like.
By Lee Kelly
Memories of Connie
Connie Wright has left a huge vacuum for several of her friends. I count myself lucky to have been among them.
Her directness, her humor, her immense artistic and social skills will not be replaced.
Talk about a caustic humor, a talented artist, a loyal friend: she was all the above as well as a hard working parent of two boys to whom she gave her full attention, sending them to the schools they needed, sharing the boys with many of us in the canyon.
She worked many jobs, including as a buyer for Bullocks, to afford their tuition. She began and shepherded her own business (Coast and Canyon Realty), and helped colleagues into the world of social graces and successful business enterprise. She helped many of us get a foothold here in the canyon.
She shared her legal expertise with us; she shared Charlie Viles, a brilliant builder and friend to us and to the boys who were tutored by Charles.
She introduced many of us to others here in the canyon. She helped guide her grandchildren, Jordan and Biko.
I can’t list all of her good works. I can say I will miss her, her humor, her worldly knowledge, her generous nature.
Connie, so long youngster. You are missed, not only for your superb cooking. Remember the goat?
Oh yes – you introduced me to the loan specialist, Dorothy Reik, who helped me borrow the money for my own 2½ acre Topanga paradise.
Lots of love,
The Shady Lady of Shady Lane, Jill Waldron