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Subject: Bill Greene, 72; Served in the State Legislature for 25 Years

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Date Posted: December 04, 2002 3:11:59 EDT

Retired state Sen. Bill Greene (D-Los Angeles), a freedom rider during the civil rights struggle in the South who never lost his passion for social justice, died Monday at age 72.

His wife, Yvonne LaFargue Greene, said he died at Kaiser South Sacramento Medical Center of complications from several long illnesses, including heart attacks, strokes and pneumonia, which hastened his retirement from the Legislature in 1992.

Greene, an imposing man of 6 feet 2 and almost 200 pounds, had represented South-Central in the Assembly and Senate for 25 years.

He had fought recurring bouts of alcoholism and voluntarily underwent treatment for the disease. Since his retirement, his wife said, Greene had been a patient at hospitals and nursing homes.

"He suffered so much for so long," she said. "A lot of people's lives are a lot better because of Bill Greene."

She said a celebration of Greene's life will be held in Sacramento soon, and that, in lieu of flowers, friends will be asked to contribute to a memorial scholarship fund.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., Greene attended the University of Michigan. He became immersed in the struggle of African Americans in the South for equality during the violent early 1960s. Yvonne Greene said his colleagues included such civil rights leaders as Julian Bond and Stokley Carmichael as well as James Farmer, leader of the Congress of Racial Equality.

Greene was arrested at least twice for his part in civil rights demonstrations, his wife said. He served a prison sentence in Mississippi. He also was arrested and jailed in Louisiana, but escaped. When they were engaged, she said, "I couldn't take him to meet my mother and family because he was a fugitive."

But they married, and he continued his protests.

"I spent most of our honeymoon sewing up his ragged clothes. He was one of the larger guys, and the police force always went for him first," she said.

Later, he was hired as the first African American desk clerk in the Assembly by Speaker Jesse M. Unruh. Greene was elected to the Assembly in 1967, succeeding his longtime friend and mentor Mervyn Dymally, who moved to the state Senate and later became lieutenant governor and a congressman.

"In 42 years of friendship, we only had one argument," Dymally said. He called Greene "as loyal as the day is long."

Their only argument occurred when Dymally asked Greene to make telephone fund-raising calls for other candidates. " 'I don't make calls for anybody,' " Dymally recalled Greene told him.

Greene succeeded Dymally in the Senate in 1975. An expert in labor law and workers' compensation insurance issues, Greene headed the Industrial Relations Committee for years.

Dymally recalled Greene as "very pro-labor and pro-business. He was able to mix the two without antagonizing either group. His position was you have to have jobs for people in oppressed areas, and if you're anti-business, you're not going to have jobs."

Among his many careers, Greene served as a lobbyist for the Building Service Employees International Union, a field representative for the Los Angeles City Employees Assn., and a staff member of the Voice of America and member of the Air Force.

One of his proudest achievements, his wife said, was being named citizen of the year in 1984 by the Catholic Labor Institute of Southern California, which saluted him for his "sincere and undying commitment to social justice."

In addition to his wife, Greene is survived by two daughters, Alisa Rochelle and Jan Andrea.

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