An educator for 42 years, Helen Greene was a fixer, a problem solver.
She was the person who saw a gap and jumped in to close it, whether it be the need for more women at top levels in education or a mismatch between a person’s self-view and potential.
Helen Greene died July 7 at her home in Glen Cove from complications of congestive heart failure and a blood infection, her family said. She was 92.
“In her way, she was fierce,” said her son Barry Greene of Miller Place, pointing to several adversities that molded or reflected her grit, including a heart attack his father, Albert Greene, suffered and survived in the late 1950s when he was 39.
Then a stay-at-home mom, one who helped found what was the Glen Cove League of Women Voters, his mother, ever the realist, saw potential for the breadwinner role falling to her one day, and that teaching could provide a secure profession, he said.
Already holding a management and marketing degree from New York University, completed in the mid-1940s, she went on to earn a master’s in elementary education at Hofstra University — and many years later, a doctorate in educational administration.
For seven years in the 1960s Greene taught at the Glen Cove Landing School, so impacting her students that four decades later more than a dozen of her former fourth-graders gathered for the first of several lunch reunions with their teacher.
Back in class they got the message that “you were there to learn, and you learned,” said Pamela Panzenbeck, Glen Cove councilwoman and a retired high school teacher.
Greene “was majestic” and “in command in a great way,” she said. “We loved her.”
Another blow came in the late 1960s when the Greenes’ daughter, Susan, was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1969 at age 18.
By then an assistant professor of education at what’s now LIU Post, Greene enrolled in the Hofstra doctorate program, in part as “a way of keeping herself busy and not think,” her son said. While the family headed to bed, “she would go on to work at her desk” late into the night.
Serving in LIU administrative roles until 1991, she went on to develop and oversee a more technology-focused education program at New York Institute of Technology, her family said, retiring in 2003.
“For her time, she was a real trendsetter when it came to educational leadership positions,” having served as a top-level dean at LIU, overseeing six campuses, said her other son Andrew Greene of Setauket. She also “helped so many people along the way,” which “was a great calling card.”
Still, the hits weren’t over, as the family learned in 1987 that Susan’s cancer was related to the drug diethylstilbestrol, known as DES, and prescribed in the 1950s to some pregnant women, Greene included.
To put a face on the resulting devastation, Greene and her husband told their story on various news programs, with her rundown included in a 2001 book on the subject. She told of how her only daughter “was doted on” and the ordeal she went through, also saying, “You don’t ever get over it. Never.”
Greene was born Sept. 28, 1926, in Brooklyn to Louis and Sadie Werner, and family members point to the early death of her mother as life-defining, leading the then 9-year-old to develop that take-charge approach, as she looked after her younger sister Florence.
“Some people have tragedies and can't go on — Helen did,” said her daughter-in-law Julie Rulon Greene of Miller Place. She also went on to bring so many others along, she said, pointing to her extensive mentoring efforts, including with a number of Glen Cove widows as they looked to move forward with their lives.
Greene was honored in 1990 by an organization she helped form for women administrators in education. Citing the disproportionate number of women to men in those roles, she told Newsday that “it takes those moving up to serve as role models.”
Greene was predeceased by her sister Florence Fertig and her husband in 2001.
She is also survived by four grandchildren.
Following a July 10 service at Dodge-Thomas Funeral Home, Glen Cove, Greene was buried at Beth Moses Cemetery, Farmingdale, next to her husband and her daughter.