Richard Green, one of the most beloved faculty members at Touro College, passed away quite un-expectantly in February 2015. Two years have passed but I still vividly remember his intense eyes, rich voice, and most importantly his passion for his students and teaching. His constant mission to find better ways of teaching and making learning easier and more pleasant was contagious. After every rather overwhelming conversation with him, I would get revitalized and would start thinking of how we could improve our teaching methods in the library so students better understand and take advantage of the many resources available to them for free.
Richard strongly believed in the ability of his students. He saw every single one of his students as an intelligent and talented young person who only needs to be guided through the maze of the education system. He tried to shepherd as many as he could and I know that a lot of his students who are still at Touro will attest to my memories of Professor Richard Green.
With the help of Professor Hal Wicke, deputy Chair of the Communication Department at NYSCAS, the library put together remembrances and memories of some of Richard’s colleagues and friends. Read on and if you feel like you want to contribute to this blog post, comment below.
–Sara Tabaei, Information Literacy Director, Touro Libraries
“As instructors at Touro we all seem to teach in separate silos, rarely talking to each other as we race from class to class.
Richard Green tried mightily to break through these walls and make connections to others – as colleagues, as students, as human beings.
His DNA was about reaching out and to bringing the world together. It was appropriate that his instrument for bringing people together was teaching Communication, teaching public speaking.
Richard worked diligently teaching, videoing and working endlessly with his students. In fact Richard’s analytical model of examining the internal structure of a speech has been used in the current revision of the Communication Department’s rubric for creating and presenting a speech.
But I remember Richard most from our frequent train rides to Brooklyn, I to go home; Richard to teach at Avenue J. As we hung on to the poles stuffed between other sweaty passengers, we would have some of the most interesting conversations. They were often so interesting that I would catch several other tightly packed sardines, listening closely to what we chatted about. One even entered our conversation enthusiastically, extending one of Richard’s points.
Clearly, Richard’s dedication to his teaching was the driving motivation of his life. Through teaching made.Richard made sense of life.
Richard remains a personal beacon of the tenacity and devotion to an elusive ideal of the effective teacher.
I miss him constantly.”
–Professor Hal Wicke, Communications Department Chair
“Prof. Richard Green will be always in our hearts.”
–Professor Robert Bohr
“Richard was a gifted and creative teacher, beloved by the students he taught at LAS-Flatbush. He loved his work, and understood how key speech-communication was to the future success of Touro students in any field. Richard always greeted me with a big smile. I was impressed by his use of a creative techniqueof video-taping key speeches, which he would play back, so students could learn effectively from their performance. At the Lander College in Flatbush, Richard Green is sorely missed.”
–Vice President and Dean Robert Goldschmidt
“It is still difficult to write about Richard because it was such a shock of sadness when he died. My favorite story of Richard, though, was when I first started working at Touro College and, at a meeting, Richard said that his birthday was the next weekend and he was going to celebrate it with a few colleagues at The Lenox Lounge, a famous jazz place in Harlem. He invited my husband and I to come to his small celebration at the Lounge and we did. It turned out that one of Richard’s student’s husband was a well-known jazz musician, who was being featured at the Lenox Lounge that weekend. My husband and I went and heard the most splendid jazz concert. Several months later, Richard arranged for his student’s husband and his group to come and play for Touro. The sixth floor classroom at 27 West was packed and “jumpin” and everyone who attended said it had been a most memorable event.
Thank you Professor Richard Green, for being a grand person and a splendid colleague. You are remembered.”
—Dean Donne Kampel
Richard “Dick” Green
I knew him by both names, first Richard and then when he asked for it – through very late night emails – by the name Dick. The closer it got to his passing, the closer I got to his family and dear friends, like Holly Kruse, the name became “Dick.” How I met Richard was online, as I think many people got to know him that way. He had taken a picture of my dog, my beloved Llewelyn English Setter Sintra, in Washington Square Park. He loved the way she looked. My dog walker said that it would be great for me to receive this image and so Richard sent it to my email – and even used Photoshop, to color correct it – to make it a perfect gift. Then our correspondence never ended. We met shortly after, upon Richard’s invitation to a small gathering at Pete’s Tavern on Irving Place. There for the first time I met Richard – and also Aleks and Yolanda from Puerto Rico. It was fun. The type of thing I don’t usually do. He needed to encourage me to go. Richard was always good at that kind of encouragement.
Over the ten years, I grew to love Richard, because he always had good intentions and basically a heart of gold. Our correspondence was mostly daily, although it could go “up” and “down” in its tone, feelings, and thoughts – as Richard was sometimes caught between the joy he saw in the world and his own feelings of loneliness and/or fear of not being worthy enough. I learned these “ups and downs” along the way, through the years, and realized that he suffered – sometimes terribly – however, actually in a way that all of can along our varying life pathways. Richard’s loneliness was sincere, a kind of existential angst. It may, in fact, have – in its openness and sincerity – represented a type of grief that we all experience as a part of life’s journey. He loved his students and visa versa. We all saw the light in Richard, no matter whether it was blurred, or slightly hidden through a darkness that occasionally emerged. However, the light was always there, beyond all, beating and pulsating, bravely pushing him on.
So much so that it is beyond my imagination how Richard made it to classes during the pain he felt from his illness, or made it home although feeling colder than usual. He bravely went on. He wanted to get better. I wanted him to get better. I did not know that this passing could – or would – occur for him at this time. For Richard deserved no pain, only good. I remember every picture he sent via email or posted on his FaceBook page – which he would have mixed emotions about. I remember every house of his neighborhood, the Halloween decorations put onto those houses, which he was so fond of. I remember the numerous subway lines and rails he shot while he was waiting to go home from school, the botanical gardens with Aleks and his boys, the numerous classes of students, the self-portraits, everything – because it was all shot with love. Richard needed his various cameras a great deal, as it gave him a slight distance, which paradoxically actually allowed him to be to closer to all that he desired and cared for. His eyes could languish a moment on the beauty and people around him. He took it in and passed it on, with enthusiasm and care. That is basically is what he gave to me – vast enthusiasm,prayer, and care. My thoughts and prayers are – and will be – with him, always.
In conclusion, I would like to recite the words to Claudio Monteverdi’s magnificent madrigal, which I sent to Richard – and was then shared between us. “Zefiro Torna” and is based upon a sonnet by the late XVI century poet, Ottavio Rinuccini, as an ode to Zephyr – the west wind that bring Spring and its accompanying “romance and dalliance.” The sonnet and later madrigal were meant to provide “infectious exuberance.” However, in the end, the mood changes – as Richard’s mood sometimes would – and gives into a longing and despair for a love not yet found. Richard was always looking for that love and I feel assured that he could find at least some – a sum – of it in each of us, who had deep and penetrating feelings for him. I was dreaming when I first heard this work. In it, an angel came to me saying that the song was for Richard’s mother, who had just passed on. Richard embraced it and said he would have it played at her funeral. Now, I would like for his sonnet to go with him, Dick.
Monteverdi’s Zefiro Torna
Return O Zephyr, and with gentle motion
Make pleasant the air and scatter the grasses in waves
And murmuring among the green branches
Make the flowers in the field dance to your sweet sound;
Crown with a garland the heads of Phylla and Chloris
With notes tempered by love and joy,
From mountains and valleys high and deep
And sonorous caves that echo in harmony.
The dawn rises eagerly into the heavens and the sun
Scatters rays of gold, and of the purest silver,
Like embroidery on the cerulean mantle of Thetis.
But I, in abandoned forests, am alone.
The ardour of two beautiful eyes is my torment;
As my Fate wills it, now I weep, now I sing.
On October 20, 1952 in an apartment in Caracas at dawn, pebbles hit the bedroom window as Dad and his friend woke up up to let them in. John Richartd Green had been born at the Centro Medico.
Dick’s first nanny was a German war refugee named Dilly – and his first spoke word was in German, “heiss” for the word “hot.” The following year, his new nanny was from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, and she commented on what a loud and clear voice this baby would have when he grew up. As we moved on from the apartment to the new house that had been built in the hills overlooking Las Mercedes – where we would live for the remainder of our years in Caracas, Ofelia joined us to help care for Dick. She was from the Canary Islands, the Spanish territory off the coast of Africa. She told us stories of growing up there, how the island residents communicated by whistling across valleys to far and deep to traverse.
Finally, however, Paulita Sanchez joined our family and especially Dick’s world, from 1956 until her death from a stroke in the summer of 2014. She was Afro-Venezuelan from the small town of Casanay in the state of Sucre in Eastern Venezuela. She was Dick’s ongoing lifelong link to the land of his birth, his enduring friend and confidante, whom he telephoned weekly until her last months of life.
Dick was a “third culture kid”. Third culture children are those of one national origin who are raised in another country. We were raised, North Americans in Venezuela – but then returned to high school and college in the U.S., lacking the developmental cues and socialization of our American peers.
Dick, as the rest of us, learned about the United States from the outside, as travelers, and as annual visitors. Venezuela was home, and yet it was not. Spanish and English were hybrid alternate languages. From third grade on, we were required to learn Venezuelan geography and history – but throughout the years, our existential language and knowledge of history, our self-location was suspended between two countries and cultures.
More than any of us in the family, Dick never stopped exploring new places – whether learning photography at Prescott College with the renowned photographer Frederick Sommer in the ghost towns of Arizona, or sleeping in domes on the desert, camping in the Teton Mountains, attending a Quaker high school in Bucks County, PA, studying under the Argentinian writer after whom the genre of magical realism developed – with Borges, Dick immersed himself in the “literature of unreality”, and finished his college, graduating magna cum laude from Michigan State University. He became fluent in German in his two years of study at the University of Freiburg, hithchiked through Spain, sleeping in caves with gypsy friends he made, and on one notable occasion he flew to an evangelical Christian mission in the southern Venezuelan Amazon, where he encountered the children and families of the Yanomami tribes. While there, he took an iconic picture of the children under a rainbow that hangs on our wall.
In sum, Dick’s story was that of a pilgrim gathering story after story as he went. As I have said on many occasions, he was the only person I knew who could befriend an Afghan Sufi on the Staten Island ferry.
But my other sense of Dick the perennial traveller, was of someone who privately had a perennial sense of homelessness, always looking for home. Embedded in the endless cascade of folk tales, songs, videos, and nonstop photographs of strangers, nature moments, or public rituals – though he was in the many milieus, too often he was not of them.
Dick was constantly in, through, and around the Internet or on Facebook. As all of us were quite aware, he emailed voluminous deep outpourings of everything he thought, did, felt, resented, wished for – all the news of his heart. John Steinbeck wrote the following, about why people tell stories – and storytelling was at the core of Dick’s activities and teaching:
“We are lonesome animals. We spend all of our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say – and to feel – ‘Yes, that is the way that it is, or at least that is the way I feel it.’ You are not as alone as you thought.”
And yet, Dick lived alone. At the end of each day’s travels to the many New York City campus sites, on the train to work and back, he would stop at local deli’s and continue to chat and befriend cooks and employees, and in his large apartment building he greeted and chatted with the many residents and neighbors and their children. But finally, he returned to his apparent, and to the daily finality of his solitary life which he experienced with great poignance and intensity.
Holly, a friend of his, related to me comments Dick had once made to her – how he stood at the window of his apartment overlooking the elevated subway tracks watching trains full of riders rumbling past – as though watching over them to be sure they would make it safely home.
* * *
From Boston, I listened, I was puzzled over many years why he declined invitations to come to Boston for holidays. But over time, I responded much too infrequently to his outpourings, and it seemed to me he both wanted closeness but distanced himself, accustomed to following his own lonely rhythms and it was difficult for me ever to find the right language or means of drawing closer to him. In time, to my great relief, he wrote of having found a lovely family in Brooklyn – the father of whom, Aleks, whom he had met through his teaching. Aleks and Tatyana and their children, it was clear from Dick’s messages and pictures, were his adoptive home, especially at holiday time.
“Home,” as Robert Frost wrote, “is the place that when you go there, they have to let you in.” And Aleks and Tatyana not only let him in, but welcomed and embraced his presence.
So here we are today, remembering our brother, our friend, our colleague, our fellow traveller. And it is only so many years later that we discover the world of his Touro College community, where he sowed seeds of knowledge and encouragement to many students. Where his close friend Hal became a loyal confidante in whom / or on whom he poured his accumulated days of challenges, discoveries, sorrows, bitternesses, or new ideas.
Dick was blindsided suddenly by the illness in our genes, the illness that killed our father and from which I narrowly escaped. It was in these last six months that the depths and limits of my emotional capacities were tested. Though I was a physician, though Dick trusted that I would keep him safe, I could only stand by him as he was consumed by his lethal disease. But with Norma’s and Holly’s examples of loving care, I learned what was possible in the last anguished weeks. I will be forever grateful that Holly was at his side in his last moments – as I sat inside my apartment during the roaring Boston blizzard, she passed on to him my last words of love, and my tender memory of him as a little kid, waving to me in his red jacket at the Maiquetia airport, as my plane took off carrying me to back to school.
I close now with a poem by the Argentinian poet Juan Gelman, translated here into English, called “Handkerchiefs”:
Handkerchiefs by Juan Gelman
“adiosadios” he said / waving his heart like a handkerchief /
“adiosadios” he would say /
in the kindness of evening / losing his leaves
slow / like a tree / from the sidewalk across the street
things came to him / longings / disasters / voices
which were changed by time / because there are suns and moons too
in a voice / and a voice can fall as night falls /
lie down / die trembling with the stars / get up
full of sun / and the children from the sidewalk across the street
their voices were full of evening /
the evening when he said “ adiosadios” to everyone /
to the trains that come and the trains that go /
adios to the heart that flies and to the flight of the heart /
adios to the evening tree /
to time / its leaves all fallen /
adios to the kindness from across the street /