By Vincent Michael Festa
It was Wednesday the 9th when my friend Anna from SBU-TV stopped me in the Student Union lobby. We hadn’t spoken to each other in ages and decided to catch up and trade news. At one point, the subject of journalism minors came up. We compared our progress and our professors. Professor Greene’s name came up and it felt like speaking of good times, how Greene was this sentimental nice guy. We also felt sad for when we both learned he was in poor condition. I later told Anna that I wanted to visit him again before it was too late; it had been a while and I missed his sincerity.
Then on Friday I went to the newsstand and saw Newsday’s front page. I was more than stunned. My journalism professor had died. It was indeed too late.
Spring 2006. At that time, I was taking three classes in journalism. I remember having to pull all-nighters just to get assignments in. Any journalism student would know that these classes were tight, full of back-and-forth research and editing.
But when it came down to Pr. Greene’s class, “History and the American Press,” it was an easy ride. For three hours once a week we would sit with Greene and he would tell us amazing stories, one after the other, of how the American press came to be. He would tell it with stress, enthusiasm, and gusto, as if he was there at that point in time to have witnessed it all. Sitting in class at that time was a who’s who in journalistic studies with the likes of George Agathos (WUSB and The Independent), Rachel O’Brien (formerly of The Patriot, now The Independent), Karen Shidlo (The Press), and others.
Sometimes he would tell get into his own personal history and speak of how he was very proud of taking down corruption. He would tell the whole class how he took on various Long Island officials, the FBI, and the Mafia (his favorite pursuit). He was so passionate about his tales that he would forget about giving us our 15-minute breaks.
Professor Greene wanted his students to learn a lot of press history. It was his nature to be aggressive and generous, giving us lots to read, and having each of us report on revolutionary media events and figures, but it was for our own good. He was also full of heavy compassion, to the point where it felt he was your father or grandpa. I do remember having some discussions with him after class in which he was kind, supportive, and heartfelt. Greene himself was a hearty man.
But I felt bad. There was no denying he was a big guy and we couldn’t help to feel very sorry to see him in poor health. A lot of my journalism friends also shared the same sentiment. A professor who had a storied and legendary career (helping earn Long Island Newsday two Pulitzer prizes), and a compassionate personality was at the end of his days and seeing him at the time meant that this would be it. It was truly an honor to have been taught by a journalistic legend like Bob Greene. I won’t forget taking his class. I have his handouts, the textbooks, even his comments on the reports I wrote. I certainly won’t forget how Greene will stand out in my mind.