Greene, Robert W. 1929–2008
Greene, Robert W. 1929–2008
(Penelope Ashe, a joint pseudonym, Robert William Greene)
See index for CA sketch: Born July 12, 1929, in Jamaica, NY; died of heart failure, April 10, 2008, in Smithtown, NY. Investigative journalist, newspaper reporter, educator, and author. Greene worked as a reporter for the Jersey Journal in 1949 and 1950. Then he honed his skills as an investigator for the Anti-Crime Commission of New York City for five years, and later worked as a staff investigator for a U.S. Senate committee on unfair labor practices. When he became a reporter at Newsday, where he would spend the bulk of his career (nearly forty years, beginning in 1955), he was able to combine his reporting and sleuthing experiences as a practitioner of investigative journalism. This was a new field in the 1950s, when journalists normally reported no more than what they had been told by police officials or press representatives. He had learned to unearth the facts on his own, and he became a founding member of the group known as Investigative Reporters and Editors. Greene's investigations led his Newsday teams to two Pulitzer Prizes for public service: one in 1970 for exposing a corrupt land speculation deal on Long Island and the other in 1974 for following the heroin trail from the poppy fields of Turkey to the streets of greater New York. Two years after that Greene and a group of volunteers avenged the car-bombing death of a colleague from Arizona by following the leads he had left behind and exposing the connections between criminals and local politicians that had ultimately cost the reporter his life. Greene was considered a hard teacher, both on the job and after his retirement in 1992, when he began teaching classes at Hofstra University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Nonetheless, he won a "teacher of the year" award in 2000 from his appreciative students. Greene's other awards over the years included the George Polk Memorial Award, the Peter Zenger Freedom of the Press Award, and the Penney-Missouri Newspaper Award. His work resulted in two books, The Heroin Trail (1974) and The Sting Man: Inside ABSCAM (1981), about the swindler whose collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to entrap members of Congress into accepting bribes led to what was called the ABSCAM affair. Greene may have been a hard-nosed investigator and a demanding teacher, but he was not without a sense of humor. He was one of twenty-four Newsday staffers who conspired in 1969 to write the most horrible novel they could manage, one chapter per person, simply to prove that the public would buy anything if it contained enough sex. The result was Naked Came the Stranger, published under the joint pseudonym Penelope Ashe. The novel was described as a random collection of explicit sex and bad writing, so bad that some chapters had to be rewritten to make them readable, but the novel did indeed become a best seller, even after the hoax was revealed.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Chicago Tribune, April 12, 2008, sec. 4, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2008, p. B13.
New York Times, April 12, 2008, p. A16.
Washington Post, April 11, 2008, p. B8.