Theodore Phinney Greene '43
Deceased January 15, 2007
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We of the Class of 1943 lost one of our brightest stars when Ted Greene died on January 15, 2007, in Amherst after a three-year struggle with pancreatic cancer.
Although born in New York City during a period when his father was affiliated with a church in Manhattan, Ted had strong New England roots and a solid Amherst College heritage, with both grandfathers, his father, four uncles and several other relatives having preceded him here. In choosing our College, after finishing first in his class at Exeter, he turned down a full scholarship offered by Harvard. As an undergraduate, Ted compiled an impressive record on the way to magna cum laude in history at our accelerated wartime graduation in January of 1943: Phi Beta Kappa as a junior; Sphinx Society; secretary of the Student Council; editor in chief of Touchstone, our student magazine; chapter president of Alpha Delta Phi, Amherst’s oldest national fraternity; secretary of the Class of 1943; Bond Fifteen; and Scarab. He also lettered in soccer and was active with the Christian Association.
Two weeks after graduation Ted entered the US Army, and after training, was assigned to serve as a weather forecaster in the Army Air Corps at Denver, CO, for the rest of WWII. Ted once wrote that it was at the post library at Buckley Field that he discovered “the joys of American history.” He also made a far more important discovery in the person of Mary Jane (“Jary”) England, a librarian at the Denver Public Library. Ted and Jary were married in 1947 after Ted left the service with the rank of staff sergeant and had received an MA in history at Columbia University.
In 1953, after a stint as a lecturer at Columbia, Ted took a position offered in Amherst’s new American Studies Program and thus began his thirty-seven year career on the faculty in which he researched, wrote and taught history, mentored students and junior faculty members, and, as one of the most influential faculty members, was called on to advise both trustees and presidents of the College on crucial issues of the day.
As an undergraduate, Ted was clearly a serious student, but he also had a playful side. He once told me, in discussing our classmate, Harry Keefe, about a Saturday afternoon during sophomore year when he and Harry, having completed an errand in Northampton and having some time on their hands, decided to drop in at one of the Smith College residence houses for a social visit. Unbeknownst to them, there were two girls there expecting the arrival of two Dartmouth lads as blind dates. Because Ted was driving a family station wagon with New Hampshire plates, the Smith girls mistakenly assumed that Ted and Harry had come from Hanover for them and indicated their readiness to go out with them. An exchange of a wink and a nod between Ted and Harry sealed the deal, and they were off with the two girls to enjoy an evening at the Aqua Vitae Restaurant in Hadley. They managed to keep their Amherst identities a secret from their dates but were obliged to confess the next day because another girl at that house recognized them and spoke up.
As a faculty member and citizen of the Town of Amherst, Ted did not hide in an ivory tower. As he had done during his undergraduate years, Ted engaged in what might be called extracurricular activities. Early on, he led a movement to provide affordable housing in the town. Then during the Vietnam era, after turmoil began on campus over the award of an honorary degree to Defense Secretary McNamara, Ted said he faced an “intense generational clash” as he led committees working with students, faculty and administration to resolve problems. Although the positive results of these efforts gained Amherst national recognition, Ted noted in his autobiographical sketch for our 50th Reunion book that classmates assailed him at Reunions for letting all this happen! That he later joined the protest at Westover Field over the US bombing of Haiphong Harbor and earned a share of a Chicopee jail cell overnight with President Bill Ward for civil disobedience also concerned some classmates.
Not long after that, the issue of coeducation came to the fore, and Ted, chosen to do a study on it, issued a seventy-six page report to the College trustees that led to the start of coeducation at Amherst with the Class of 1976. Ted continued to get flak at Reunions from classmates who could not stand losing the all-male college they knew as undergraduates. But those objections eventually diminished, possibly due in part because some even had daughters and granddaughters accepted at Amherst. Ted said that he finally enjoyed our 40th Reunion, adding, “No hassles from classmates.” Thereafter, Ted began a gradual phase out of his teaching duties, took more time to travel with Jary and retired to an apartment in Applewood in South Amherst in 1993.
Through all the years since graduation in 1943, Ted stayed connected and loyal to our Class. As Class secretary for our first ten years as alumni, he kept us in touch with far flung classmates and promoted a strong sense of camaraderie that helped make us one of Amherst’s most loyal and generous classes. We even learned that his Class notes for one issue were prepared in a honeymoon cottage at Estes Park, CO! Thereafter, as his professional responsibilities and stature grew at Amherst College, Ted nevertheless continued to show his affection for our Class. We remember how he and Jary hosted his classmates for cocktails at their house after Homecoming games. We remember his service as Class treasurer at our annual mini-reunions and his Reunion program presentations done with his subtle humor.
Reading the transcript of remarks made at the celebration of life service for Ted (which regrettably, I was unable to attend) by his brother, his children, a cousin and faculty colleagues reinforced my own observations of Ted as a person high on performance, and low on show, having genuine concern for all other persons in the communities of which he was a part, whether relatives, friends or strangers. The term noblesse oblige comes to mind for Ted as he consistently put his concerns into action. His life was indeed one to celebrate. For the Class of 1943, I offer our sympathy to Jary; his children Dorothy, Stephen and Jennifer; his brother, Thayer; and their families.
—Peter Ivy ’43