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Hundreds pay last respects at funeral of Joseph Greene

When Joseph David Greene left the cotton fields of his native Emanuel County back in 1959, the young black man had a vision of someday changing what was referred to back then as the Old South.

Times were lean. There weren't many jobs. And for those fortunate enough to find jobs, they were generally on farms, picking cotton or other labor-tasking jobs that paid little money.

Prof. Greene picked cotton and plowed behind an old mule. He held true to his beliefs, thinking one day he'd be special not only to himself, but to others. With a mere $35 to his name and a pair of tennis shoes, he moved to Thomson. He was determined to make a better life for himself and others along the way. He never wavered from those beliefs.

Over the next 40 years, Prof. Greene made enormous strides to transform the Old South into a New South - one where both blacks and whites could work together for the common good of all.

Prof. Greene literally traded in his farming skills to become one of the most influential businessmen that has emerged during the last half century in Georgia.

His funeral last Friday at Springfield Baptist Church in Thomson brought out hundreds of mourners - both black and white, young and old, rich and poor. Each was there for their own personal reason. As a group, all were there to remember a man who had touched their lives in some form or another.

The crowd included local and state business executives, bankers, educators, government officials, clergy members and many of whom counted themselves lucky to simply have called Prof. Greene their friend. Former Augusta Mayor Bob Young and his wife attended the funeral service. For years, Prof. Greene served as a special guest on WJBF-TV when Mr. Young hosted a political talk show. Today, Mr. Young works in the Bush Administration.

In his move to Thomson from the Cross-Green Community of Emanuel County, Prof. Greene had earned his diploma from high school. His life quickly moved from a quest of dreams to reality.

Immediately, he joined Springfield Baptist Church, where he later would become active in many ways. He rose to become a longtime Sunday School teacher, as well as a deacon.

"We are gathered here today to celebrate the life and legacy of Joseph David Greene," said the Rev. Henderson Roberson, overlooking the flag-draped coffin. "His legacy has been a light in this community."

The Rev. Bennie Brinson called Prof. Greene an orderly and organized man.

"That was Joe's life," the Rev. Brinson said. "He was consistent.

"Joe had character that was above others. He stood tall. He could be trusted. He was a like a tall tree with values. He knew who he was. Joe was a man of love.

"We're here today, because he considered us friends. Oh, what a house he built. His house was on solid ground. We must let the vessel go, but not the treasures."

"God was at his very best when he made Joseph Greene," said Solomon Walker, II, a retired executive with Pilgrim and Health Life Insurance Company in Augusta.

"Joseph Greene was a man who had a thirst for knowledge," Mr. Walker said. "He believed strongly in the pursuit of excellence."

One of the early mentors in Prof. Green's life was Eddie Long, who worked as a debit agent with the insurance company, Mr. Walker explained. "He wore shiny shoes and drove a shiny car. It really got his attention."

Two other men who had a strong influence in the life of Prof. Greene was M.M. "Skipper" Scott and C.O. Hollis.

"Joe wanted to be just like Mr. Hollis," Mr. Walker said, noting that through the years, Prof. Greene rose through the ranks of the insurance company to become a highly-successful executive.

George Drake, who knew Prof. Greene for a number of years and served as a deacon with him at Springfield Baptist Church, said his friend "was a man who loved his church family, just as much as his immediate family."

At the same time, he loved boys and girls and wanted them to achieve high educational marks.

Mr. Drake, who served as an assistant football coach and former principal in the McDuffie County School System, recalled Prof. Greene walking the streets of Thomson years ago, letting people know the importance of becoming registered to vote.

Prof. Greene, according to Mr. Drake, didn't think of himself as being any better than other black, white, blue or yellow people.

He said Brother Greene had meant so much to him, "because of his encouraging remarks. He was a determined man"

Mr. Drake thanked Bob Wilson from stepping down from the local school board "so we could have representation on the board of education."

In 1970, Prof. Greene was elected to the McDuffie County Board of Education, becoming the county's first black elected official. He later left that post to become a member, and later chairman, of the University System Board of Regents.

"He was a giant of a man," Mr. Drake said.

Georgia Appeals Court Judge John "Jack" Ruffin said of Prof. Greene: "Joe was the embodiment of truth. He embodied the light of hope. He traveled around the world and was a huge success. He moved from success to significance."

Judge Ruffin said every community "needs a Joe Greene" and that some communities who are worse off "need several" Joe Greenes.

"He was a good man; a successful man; and a significant man," Judge Ruffin said. "God, what a legacy."

William Bloodworth, president of Augusta State University, also reflected on the life of Prof. Greene, saying he was one of his first acquaintances when he came to Augusta 14 years ago.

"No one had more sheer personal presence than Joseph Greene," said Dr. Bloodworth.

Prof. Greene served as Augusta State's Cree Walker Professor of Business.

Dr. Bloodworth called Prof. Greene his mentor, advisor and his friend. "He had extraordinary character. His death is a great loss for Augusta State University."

The Rev. Michael Thomas of Piney Grove Baptist Missionary Church in Emanuel County, said Piney Grove was special to Prof. Greene because "it was a place of his roots and where he met the Lord." Rev. Thomas also is head boys basketball coach at Thomson High School.

Thomson Mayor Robert E. Knox, Jr., also reflected on the life of Prof. Greene.

Mayor Knox said Prof. Greene set the stage for what we have now, in terms of a well-rounded public education system in McDuffie County.

Whatever has gone on in the past 40 years in the immediate area, Joe Greene "was right in the middle of it," Mayor Knox said.

The mayor also praised Prof. Greene for his efforts with the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life.

"He wanted everybody to be the best they could be, and he brought it out," Mayor Knox said.

Prof. Greene was laid to rest at Westview Cemetery in Thomson. A U.S. Army Honor Guard from Augusta's Fort Gordon performed Taps and presented the American flag to Mrs. Greene at the gravesite.

On Monday, community and state leaders gathered at Augusta State University to honor Prof. Greene. Hundreds filled ASU's Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre for a memorial service hosted by the school. The service featured speakers that looked at Prof. Greene's life from the perspective of the faculty, students, the board of regents, and the community.

State Representative Quincy Murphy read a resolution from the state legislature that honored Prof. Greene's service to the CSRA, the state and the country. He then presented a copy of the resolution to the Greene family.

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Web posted on Thursday, November 15, 2007

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