Roy Greene dies at 99

Roy Greene dies at 99

The Phenix City and Russell County area has lost perhaps its greatest promoter, biggest friend and most passionate benefactor. Roy M. Greene, 99, died peacefully Sunday at his home – the Bass-Perry Plantation – in Seale. Born March 7, 1921 in Auburn, Greene was only six months from reaching 100 years old.

“I woke up at 4 a.m. to the news that Mr. Roy Greene had passed during the night. My heart was broken,” said Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor. “Even though everyone felt like his time with us was drawing to a close, it still hurt to hear he was gone. Mr. Roy, as I called him, was a dear friend of mine. I knew Mr. Roy kind of in passing for the last 20 years, but the last 12, we became good friends. I love to sit and listen to him talk and tell stories of things he did in life – both funny and serious. From fox hunting tales to trips around the world to politics in the state and nation. Mr. Roy was a wealth of knowledge on any topic you could think of. He was one of the most kindhearted men I have ever met. Most people will never know how much he did for and gave both Phenix City and Russell County. I will miss him dearly.”

Mr. Greene is best known as the owner of BEAM, the local cable and Internet provider, and this newspaper, but he was so much more for the community in which he chose to live and the organizations he supported over the years. 

“He did a lot for people,” said Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe. “He did a lot for the community. I know he loved Phenix City. He told me that several times. He gave way more than people will ever realize, and he didn’t talk about it. When he did something for you, he didn’t even look for a ‘thank you’ or anything. He’s surely going to be missed from our community and our city.”

Mr. Greene was notorious for giving in silence. He never wanted others to know what he was doing. He simply wanted others to have opportunities. 

“When you think of communities and their successes, you look at the pillars of the community. Mr. Greene was one of those pillars. In a lot of ways, he’s probably even the foundation,” said Alabama State Representative Chris Blackshear. “The thing that stood out to me the most is that he helped so many people on the individual level and on the community level that no one even knows about. That’s real servant leadership. He got joy and satisfaction knowing he made something better for someone else. Personally for me, my first ever TV job was with Mr. Greene at the cable station. A lot of where I am today and what I’ve been able to accomplish in part has been the influence he had on me and the opportunities he gave me within his organization. While he may not be here, his legacy and his mark on the community will continue to live for decades going forward.”

Mr. Greene enjoyed giving opportunities to people.

When Sammy Howard decided it was time to give up coaching, he received a telephone call the very next morning after the decision from Roy Greene at 7 a.m. After talking a bit, Howard said Greene ended the call by simply hanging up. Greene rarely, if ever, said “Goodbye.”

“I turned to my wife, Judy, and told her I think he just offered me a job, but then I really don’t know because he just hung up on me,” Howard said of the man who would give him an opportunity to go into banking.

“He was like a second father to me. He was always very good to me. I loved him. There are so many people in this community that he has helped, and they do not even know. I cannot tell you the number of times when someone was out of work or down on their luck that got a bag full of money from him. He would give the bag to me and tell me to not tell them where it came from. He was a very smart man, but he tried not to let you know it. Roy Greene was a great man. He was great for our community,” Howard said of his late boss and friend.

Mr. Greene was the son of Leslie Mitchell Greene and Virgil Roy Greene. The oldest of three children, Mr. Greene lived most of his childhood in Camp Hill, Ala., where both of his parents were teachers, with his younger brother Robert Greene and sister EllyAnn Greene Eason. In 1934, Virgil Greene took a job as the County Agriculture Extension Agent and moved his family to Phenix City. It was then, in the throws of the Great Depression, Mr. Greene found his passion for civic engagement and fell in love with Phenix City and Russell County. 

Mr. Greene attended Central High School and then Columbus High School where he graduated in 1939. With both parents having a teaching background, the importance of education was always stressed in the Greene family. In the fall of 1939, Mr. Greene attended Auburn University. After a year at Auburn, he transferred to the University of Alabama.  At Alabama, Mr. Greene was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity; included in the Who’s Who in colleges; was a member of the Alabama football team; was a member of the Debate Team; and was elected Senior Class President, as well as being in other honor societies.  

He served in the infantry in the Pacific during World War II and was discharged as a First Lieutenant in 1946.  After the war, he returned to the University of Alabama School of Law where he earned his law degree. He was a member of the famous class of ’48, which was composed mostly of war veterans attending law school on the GI Bill and anxious to make something of their lives. They elected him as the president of the Veterans Association. These men sacrificed much and returned to the United States with visions of moving their country forward as a world leader. In law school, Mr. Greene made many friends that lasted a lifetime. His roommate was Howell Heflin, who later became Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and  a U.S. Senator. The Alabama Judicial Building is named for him. Peyton Finch, George Huddleston, and other friends, would go on to be United States Congressmen and Senators, Chief Justices of the Alabama Supreme Court, Federal Judges, ambassadors, governors, and CEOs of major corporations. Fifty years later, it was determined that the law class of ’48 had led the state and nation in their generation. 

After law school, Mr. Greene returned to Phenix City and began his law practice. He served as City Judge, City Commissioner, County Attorney, and District Attorney for the 26th Judicial Circuit. In 1960, Governor John Patterson appointed him as Lieutenant Colonel on his staff. Mr. Greene was elected by a landslide to the state legislature, but after redistricting, he decided to give up politics and become a businessman. In July of 1951 an article about Roy Greene appeared in the Columbus Ledger Enquirer Newspaper. It read, “Roy Greene, Phenix City’s fair-haired boy of politics, caught fire like a skyrocket last fall and he hasn’t stopped zooming yet. He has ‘hitched his wagon to a star.’”

In 1952, Mr. Greene gave Phenix City a voice of its own when he founded its first radio station WPNX.  Up until that time, Georgia stations had dominated the airwaves and had used their influence in Washington, D.C. to block Russell County from having a station of its own. Mr. Greene was able to change that and get WPNX on the air as well as establish radio stations in Bartow and Hollywood, Florida. Mr. Greene also went on to co-found the Phenix Citizen newspaper, further giving the citizens of Phenix City a voice of their own. The paper traded hands for a number of

years, before returning to his ownership less than 15 years ago. 

It is currently the largest weekly paper in the state of Alabama, one of the largest in the southeast, and has won many awards and honors. 

As a young journalist in 2007, Denise DuBois was given her first reporting job at what was then the Phenix Citizen. In 2012, she became the Executive Editor of the renamed Citizen of East Alabama. 

“Mr. Green took a chance on me to be the editor of his newspaper. He had a passion for community news that has always been evident when he would share stories. He allowed me the chance to lead the organization, be creative, and build my passion for telling the stories of East Alabama,” DuBois said. 

After selling the radio station, he purchased F&M Bank of Hurtsboro and moved it to Phenix City. Prior to that time in Alabama, no bank had ever been moved from a small town to a larger city. F&M Bank, with the help of many local people, prospered and twenty years later was sold to Synovus where Mr. Greene would serve on the board of directors for many years.  

In 1964, Mr. Greene heard of a new method of delivering television to the home. It was called CATV. No one at the time was willing to invest to bring cable TV to Phenix City and Russell County, but Mr. Greene wanted the people in the community to have access to the latest technology. That company, which began initial operations in  Mr. Greene’s barn, is now known as BEAM and is one of the largest independent cable operators in the State of Alabama, bringing East Alabama faster Internet speeds and the latest technology. 

Mr. Greene and the company continue to “give back” to the community by  donating very generously to local schools, charities, counties, and municipalities. 

Mel Long, owner of Mel and Abe’s barber shop, talked at length of what Mr. Greene has done for him, especially for his yearly community event celebrated at his barbershop. “I love Mr. Greene. He’s my friend,” Long said. 

On Monday afternoon, Gov. Kay Ivey ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in Russell County tomorrow, the day of his interment. 

Remembering Roy Greene

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Roy – what we called him, even as children in Jernigan. My daddy died when I was 12 and he was always there for Mother and me! My first job was part-time at F&M Bank, while I was still at Auburn.  Roy always believed in me and he was one of the main reasons that this timid, little country girl with no self-confidence found the courage to become a lawyer.  He even wrote a recommendation to Harvard for me  – when we both knew I wasn’t Harvard material! Throughout my career, he remained my unknowing guide.  In unfamiliar territory,  I would always ask myself, “what would Roy do”?  I find it ironic and fitting that my first and last job was for Roy Greene. And one of the things that endeared me most to Roy was how much he loved my daddy.  Up until our last visit, he was still telling me stories about him – and his stories were the best! We haven’t just lost a local legend – we’ve lost a good man and a friend.”

– Joan Budd, General Council for BEAM

“Mr. Greene has been a pioneer in our industry for a long time, so I knew of his legend well before I came to work for him.  He was highly regarded by all in the industry, but it was a different kind of blessing to get to experience his visionary expertise firsthand.  He has an uncanny way of seeing opportunities that others may not see.  Even in his nineties he was aware of technology trends and set a strategic direction.  What I didn’t know when I came was his deep love and commitment in his community.  Because he did things for the right reasons and not for the notoriety, much of what he has done may not be known by most, but I can honestly say, when we say “we give back to the community we serve” – it is meant from the bottom of our heart because he has set the example for us to follow.  It is my sincere hope that his legacy as one of the most generous and influential people in this area will always be remembered.  His family has so much to be proud of.”

– Melissa Gauntt, Director of Business Operations for BEAM

“He and my dad  played football together at Columbus High. One of them was a guard and the other one was a tackle, I think. Our families were always close. We were all like family. He will be truly missed. Mr. Roy was a pioneer in Russell County and Phenix City. If it were not for him, we probably still would not have cable television in our county. He started the service with his own money when no others would take the risk. This community is going to miss him more than it knows. He was always there to support things that benefited his community,” 

– Russell County Commission Chairman Gentry Lee

“We join with others in mourning the loss of Mr. Roy Greene, a man whose contributions toward the lives of residents in Smiths Station and the Chattahoochee Valley are immeasurable,” said Mayor F.L. “Bubba” Copeland. “As a businessman, he strived to provide a high-quality product and service while improving our area’s utility infrastructure and served the lives of many. He will be greatly missed.”

– F.L. “Bubba” Copeland, Mayor of Smiths Station

“Mr. Roy Greene was a huge supporter of Public Safety and the Phenix City Police Department specifically. Throughout my career, Mr. Greene has provided our department with resources and technology that has made the Phenix City Police Department one of the most technologically advanced Police Departments in the South East. Mr. Greene was gracious and humble, never seeking recognition for himself, but always seeking ways that he could support and make the Phenix City Police Department and the City of Phenix City better. His legacy and service to his community will be evident for the next 100 years and beyond. His life of service and ingenuity will be remembered for generations. He will be greatly missed and we offer our heartfelt love and support to his family during this time.” 

– Ray Smith, Phenix City Police Chief

“I guess anyone who knew Mr. Roy can say what I am about to say. I had a special relationship with him dating back to my high school days when I received the F&M Bank scholarship to attend Chattahoochee Valley Community College. I still have the certificate and showed it to him several years ago. He laughed and said, ‘I guess I have been taking care of you a long time.’ A couple of years later when I had heart surgery and had to miss several weeks of work at the Citizen of East Alabama, he told me not to worry about anything that he was going to take care of me and my family. He did just that and I loved the man for everything he did for us. In return for everything he did, he wanted nothing in return but to know we were okay. There were some times when he asked me to do things for him to help others. I did them as he requested knowing the reason he did them was to make things better for those other people. I have never known a more honest and humble man than Mr. Roy. I know his family will miss him. My family will too. And, so will a lot of others he helped throughout his life.”

– Mark Clark, The Citizen of East Alabama

“Mr. Greene hired me in 1983 when he began expanding the cable network. He liked to kid, and when someone asked how he found me, he said, jokingly, in a way only he could, ‘I found him wandering around a trailer park in Auburn.’ He failed to tell them I had just built the whole cable system in that park. That began a 37-year relationship. I went to work with him and started doing just about everything from herding sheep on 431 to guiding dignitaries and just about everything in between. Along the way, we built 1,100 miles of cable and fiber across Lee and Russell counties. Mr. Greene was a big part of most of my adult life. When I was going through my most difficult time of my life when I lost my wife, Mr. Greene was there for me. He made me get my priorities straight and sent me home to be with her. He told me to stay as long as it took. I will always have many, many fond memories of him.”

– Jerry Burrell. Burrell was one of the first employees at the cable company that started in 1983. He continues to work at BEAM today.