One of many accomplishments for which Roy Greene will be remembered is giving Phenix City and Russell County, Ala., their own media services in an area otherwise dominated by news and entertainment from larger cities such as Columbus, Opelika and Montgomery.
The World War II veteran, attorney and entrepreneur died Sunday at age 99, prompting Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to authorize flying flags in Russell County at half-staff Wednesday in tribute.
“He is credited with bringing radio, newspaper and cable television to Phenix City,” Ivey wrote. “Greene served as city judge, city commissioner, county attorney and district attorney for the 26th Judicial Circuit. Let us remember his many years of dedicated service to our country and the people of Alabama.”
Greene and a partner established Phenix City’s weekly newspaper, once known as the Phenix Citizen and now the Citizen of East Alabama. That was in 1954, the same year as the “Phenix City Cleanup” when the assassination of attorney general nominee Albert Patterson led the governor to declare martial law, to eradicate gambling interests that long had dominated county politics.
About 10 years later, Greene brought cable television to Russell County, first working out of a barn on his land in Seale, and persisting despite others’ doubts.
“He pioneered all that,” said longtime friend Steve Abbott.
Now 78 and retired from Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Abbott was in his 20s when he went to work for Greene, first at Greene’s radio station, WPNX, and then at the Citizen newspaper. He remembers questioning the prospects of cable television as Greene worked on it in the barn.
“I kept telling him, ‘Mr. Greene, I don’t believe this will ever work,’” Abbott recalled. “He proved me wrong.”
Abbott said that if not for Greene, he might never have finished college at Auburn University and moved on to a successful business career. He wanted to drop out of school, because his work at the Citizen was so hectic.
“We had a big paper back then,” he said. “We were just rolling.” But Abbott also had a wife and a baby girl, and he was commuting to Auburn for classes. It was wearing him out.
“I just wanted to quit and go to work full time,” he said, but Greene wouldn’t hear of it. “He’d run me out of the office and tell me to get back to Auburn.” Abbott graduated in 1967. After he retired from Blue Cross, he went back to work for Greene at the cable company.
The legal counsel for Greene’s Cable TV of East Alabama is Joan Budd, who also credits Greene as a crucial influence.
“He was my mentor,” she said Tuesday. “It’s because of Roy that I went to law school.”
It would be hard to find someone in Russell County who didn’t know Greene, she said. “Who hasn’t worked for Roy Greene?” she asked, adding he was a driving force behind many careers, and a hard-driving boss.
“He would put you to work, but would encourage you to move up the ladder,” she said.
Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe said he also came into Greene’s orbit.
“He helped mentor me,” said Lowe. “He was kind of like a coach…. He’s just always been a part of the Lowes’ family life.”
The mayor said Greene’s charity often went unnoticed, because he didn’t want credit. “He’d do it and not even want a ‘thank you,’” Lowe said.
Greene was able to see beyond race when others would not, he said. “He didn’t look at the color of people’s skin,” said the mayor, who is Black. “He cared about people.”
Greene also was known for buying the Farmers & Merchants Bank that started in Hurtsboro, and moving its operations into Phenix City, before it was bought by Columbus-based CB&T, now known as Synovus.
Abbott said Greene’s lifelong focus was on his home county and its future.
“He gave so much to Russell County and East Alabama,” Abbott said. “That’s where his heart was.”