Joseph Greene - who broke down racial barriers, bridged countless divides and battled hard for community causes in McDuffie County and across the nation - passed away Monday.
The 67-year-old Augusta State University professor lost his long fight against colon cancer Monday at Trinity Hospital in Augusta.
"He was a real leader," said Thomson Mayor Robert E. Knox, Jr. "But more than that perhaps, he was a genuine good person. He embodied all the character of a servant leader. He made our community and our state a better place to live. I'm thankful for having had an opportunity to know such a fine man."
A wake will be held at 7 p.m. tonight at Springfield Baptist Church in Thomson. Funeral services, meanwhile, are set for 11 a.m. Friday at the church. Burial will be in Westview Cemetery in Thomson. A memorial service has also been scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday in the Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre on the campus of Augusta State.
Prof. Greene is survived by his immediate family of his wife, Barney Greene, his daughter, Cathy, and his son, Joseph "David" Greene, Jr.
On Tuesday morning, as word of his death spread, Prof. Greene was remembered as a Godly man who loved his family. He was a longtime deacon and adult Sunday School teacher at Springfield Baptist Church in Thomson.
"Without a doubt, his legacy will be a tremendous loss to us all," said Rev. Frederick Favors, pastor of Springfield. "He touched so many lives in so many different ways. And in so doing, he glorified and honored our God."
Rev. Favors said he believes that Prof. Greene will be remembered by many simply for the love of people.
"He had a great love for people," said Rev. Favors. "And it didn't matter the color of their skin."
His memoir, From Cotton Fields to Board Rooms, was published in 2005 and recounted the nearly 50-year journey that would culminate with his becoming chairman of the University System Board of Regents.
At a book signing at the Thomson-McDuffie County Library in June 2005, Prof. Greene reflected on his life and said he was blessed with a loving heart and not bitter about his travails. He said he made a decision early on to effect change from the inside.
"No matter how loud the voice, it is seldom heard in the boardroom unless you are sitting around the table," he said.
Prof. Greene served as Augusta State's Customer Service Champion and was retired as ASU's Cree Walker Professor of Business. He broke the color barrier on the McDuffie County Board of Education in the 1970s and was the first black president of the Augusta Rotary Club.
"I was kind of in shock when I opened the newspaper at 5 o'clock and saw that he had passed," said McDuffie County School Superintendent Mark Petersen "He's been a friend of education and a friend of McDuffie County Schools for many years, and we are certainly saddened at his passing. ...He was the pioneer."
Prof. Greene earned many accolades during his life including being named a Distinguished Alumnus of both Augusta State and the University of Georgia, Outstanding Faculty Member at ASU, Business Person of the Year, Man of the Year, and countless others.
"As an Augusta State alumnus, a Regent of the University System of Georgia, a business professor, and a friend, Joseph Greene was simply extraordinary - as he was in all aspects of his life," said Augusta State University President William A. Bloodworth, Jr. "He offered absolutely irreplaceable qualities of character and experience to this university. With his death, he is gone from us much too soon, and we have suffered a terrible loss - but he gave so much for us to remember, cherish, and apply."
Prof. Greene was diagnosed in 1982 with colon cancer, and also underwent treatment for lymphoma. His battle - along with similar fights waged by his brother, Solomon, and sister, Christine, who died from the disease - led him to vehemently support The American Cancer Society and its annual Relay for Life.
"One thing that connects us all is supporting and caring for each other," he told The McDuffie Mirror in 2005. "We all simply celebrate having come through cancer. Surviving is a wonderful gift."
Prof. Greene's story as a cancer survivor was adopted nationally by the ACS. American Cancer Society officials said they appreciated his dedication.
"What a wonderful man he was," said Elissa McCrary, the Communications Director for the American Cancer Society in Georgia. "He helped us so much with awareness about colon cancer.Â He was willing to do anything if he thought he could help somebody else."
His influence spread over generations and into classrooms, offices and homes across McDuffie County.
Peggy Willis, who is a computer teacher at Thomson Middle School and serves as McDuffie County Relay for Life Co-Chair, broke down in tears after learning of Prof. Greene's death Tuesday.
"He molded the best attributes into education," said Ms. Willis, noting that Prof. Greene was one of her professors at Augusta State University. "He was definitely a role model. My Mom, Frances Cowart, just thought the world of him. He was a man who stood for such integrity. He carried himself with such dignity."
McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall remembers Prof. Greene as a friend, educator, civic and church leader.
"He was always my mentor," Sheriff Marshall said. "He was always such a positive person and such an outstanding public speaker."
James Isom, a retired educator and director of music at Springfield Baptist Church, said Prof. Greene "was one of his best friends."
The two came to Thomson shortly before 1960. And both worked together teaching school at what was then known as R.L. Norris High School. Prof. Greene was a substitute teacher, while Mr. Isom was on staff there.
"He was always an upstanding, intelligent businessman and a great leader," Mr. Isom said. "He was a man who had a vision of greatness. He was a humble servant and a real Christian."
Prof. Greene's wife, Barney, said she and her husband enjoyed a wonderful life together.
"It was beautiful. It was special," she said Monday night. "He was my perfect husband."
Morris News Service reports were used in this article.
Thanks for being our Scout Leader, Little League Baseball Coach, Sunday School Teacher and the best role model for any young person, especially "Young Men". You will be missed but never forgotten. Thanks, "Mr. Joe"
- William Bentley Jr., Thomson
Professor Greene was one of my finance professors at ASU. He was truly a gentleman, a scholar, and an exceptional human being. As a teacher, he inspired students to be their absolute best and to always want to learn more. He treated everyone with respect, honor, and dignity. He was one of the most gifted, exceptional, and fine human beings anyone could hope to ever know. Everyone who knew him was truly blessed and one can only hope to aspire to a small fraction of his character. He was one of those few people in life that it was your privilege to have known. He will be so very, very missed by so many.
- Debra DelGenio, BBA, MBA, Appling
Mr. Greene will be greatly missed by all the citizens of McDuffie County and throughout the state of Georgia. His dignity, grace, and unwavering devotion to others was uncommon and truly a blessing from God. In the Bible, the first Psalm says, "blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night." Thanks, Mr. Greene for being such a man and for inspiring generations to achieve greatness in life. My family and I wish to express our sincere condolescenes to your family during this time of sorrow. May the Lord Bless and keep you in his care always. Sincerely, Pete and Melissa Pinkston
- Pete Pinkston, Augusta
I was shock to hear of Dr. Green passing, a man with a huge heart,a man that stayed aware of the bridges and never attempted to burn them but strived to make everything better. A man that always stood tall and demonstrated love for all .I am not sadden for Dr. Green, but sadden for his beautiful wife and childrens to whom he loved so much. I have never heard Dr. Green raise his voice!! But as i now i believe that he walking and shouting loudly! around heaven garden. We can and will hear him,and see him if we place love in our heart, Jesus is love. Dr. Green I believe new Jesus and that why he demonstrated love. I am proud of this man and i thank god for allowing me to know him.may god bless and keep the family in love and his precious sight.
- Lloyd Roberts Jr., Thomson
To Cathy and Family, Remember that the Lord is always there to strengthen you and lift you up. Jehovah-Shalom (Giver of Peace) Judges 6:24 With Deepest Sympathy.
- Tara L. Cowins, Douglasville
Our thoughts and prayers gors out to the Greene Family. "May God Bless YOU".
- Marion and Alice Scott, Sierra Vista, Arizona