When Dr. Jennifer Cowley was a high school student in Arlington, she remembers going to the Ballpark in Arlington for a Texas Rangers game and thinking she’d died and gone to heaven. Right there in the stadium was a TGI Fridays.
“Forget baseball,” she gushed. “Having a TGI Fridays in a baseball stadium was so cutting edge at the time I was just thinking, ‘now how cool is this?’”
Last month, Cowley, now a Ph.D. and president of UT Arlington, was standing at a podium addressing the man who helped land The Ballpark in Arlington that included that TGI Fridays. When neighboring cities circled the baseball team, hoping to lure them away from Arlington, then-Mayor Richard Greene convinced the Rangers Baseball Club to stay put. He’d developed an acceptable plan to build a new ballpark for the team as part of a proposed public-private partnership, complete with the amenities of a showplace.
Once Arlington voters approved the plan in the largest-ever turnout in a local election, Greene had etched yet another notch on his legacy belt.
Now that legacy is on full display. Students, researchers, or just the curious can learn more about Greene and his civic contributions through the materials he has donated to the UTA Libraries Special Collections Department on the sixth floor of the school’s Central Library.
UTA is slowly amassing an impressive collection of material from Arlington mayors that already includes Elzie Odom and, very soon, Tom Vandergriff and Robert Cluck.
“Part of the objective of collecting these materials is, number one, so people can have a better understanding of the political movement at the time,” said Kera Newby, director of the library’s Special Collections and Archives. “People want to know what happened, why it happened, and people’s thoughts behind it. People often look at past events and ask, ‘How can I understand this if I can’t have a conversation with the politician?’ Well, you can look at their papers and see their notes or meeting minutes.”
Greene’s papers document his years of public service with his wife of 59 years, Sylvia. While Greene worked for the city, Sylvia toiled away on civic projects like establishing River Legacy Park and its Nature Center.
Dignitaries were plentiful during the celebratory event, which doubled as a retirement party for Greene, a professor in the College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs department at UTA.
“Although the whole retirement thing is a little hard to fathom,” said George Campbell, who was Arlington’s city manager when Greene was mayor. “Look at his accomplishments. You don’t accomplish that by standing on the sidelines watching everyone else.”
Greene served as mayor of Arlington from 1987 to 1997, a city council member, and an Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator before planting himself at UTA. Before all that, he had spent more than a decade of service as chairman of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and as Mayor Pro-Tem.
On his watch as mayor, public safety and infrastructure across the city were improved as the town launched a full-scale economic development initiative in partnership with the Arlington Chamber of Commerce under the direction of a council-citizen oversight committee.
Statewide acknowledgment arrived as a result, ushering in significant economic growth and new employment opportunities for residents.
Greene also helped convince General Motors to retool its Arlington manufacturing plant instead of shutting it down. It wasn’t easy. He succeeded by mobilizing the local community, the Texas governor, and the area’s congressional delegation to assist in a campaign to convince GM that the Arlington plant should be re-tooled.
Campbell, who first met Greene in 1983, said it didn’t take long to “Quickly believe he ran for the office and served the city for all the right reasons. He served the community of Arlington and not himself.”
A considerable part of his legacy is also education, said Campbell, what with his work at UTA and the Texas Rangers Richard Greene Scholars, a program in the Arlington ISD where each year, a senior from each of Arlington’s six high schools is selected to participate in a leadership program by rotating through various community services and government entities while earning a $10,000 scholarship along the way.
“What he’s done in education, in civic life, in life itself, has been extraordinary,” said Dr. Maria Martinez-Cosio, a senior vice president for academic affairs at UTA. “The students will miss him greatly. He had a profound impact on their learning.”
For all his accomplishments, Greene was modest and spent most of his remarks touting his partnership with Sylvia as the reason why he was there in the first place.
He referenced a scene from the movie “A League of Their Own,” about the first women’s professional baseball league during World War II, a favorite of the couple based on a movie line about things being too hard. “It’s supposed to be hard,” the player wanting to quit was told. “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
At one poignant moment at the podium, Greene confessed about at times growing weary and even semi-depressed.
“And I might say something along the lines that it is just too hard,” Greene said.
Sylvia would quickly answer, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard makes it great.”
Greene would snap out of it.
“I’m here,” he acknowledged, with Sylvia standing at his side, “because she’s here.”