Frances Greer, first woman to head Miami-Dade’s Office of Health Services, dies

Frances Kruvand Greer, Miami-Dade County’s top public health official in the 1980s, championed programs for the needy — because she could relate.

An Eastern European immigrant, Greer had come to the United States in 1920 as an infant with parents who had nothing.

She was left to raise a 15-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter by herself after husband Seymour Greer, who owned the American Plumbing Supply Co., died in 1962.

“We went from comfortable to not,’’ recalled the son, Miami attorney Bruce Greer. “There was no more [spending] or going out to dinner.’’

Because she understood struggle, her son said, Greer “set a standard. She never lost focus on helping people who needed help.’’

She’d go on to serve four years as director of the county’s Office of Health Services.

Frances Greer, born Sept. 19, 1919, in Kaunas, Lithuania, died at her Pinecrest home April 10. She was 93, and was the first woman to become the county’s public health chief.

Bruce Greer is president of the Board of Trustees at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. His wife, Evelyn Langlieb Greer, is a past Pinecrest mayor and former Miami-Dade County School Board member.

A registered nurse with a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University, Frances Greer wanted to be a doctor, her son said. But despite having been valedictorian at Long Island University and Brooklyn’s famed Erasmus High School, she couldn’t get a full scholarship to medical school.

At the time, medical schools had tight quotas on Jews and women, and Frances was both.

Still, said her son, “she always felt there were a million good things you could do, and she and we needed to do it. She always reminded us that that we were here by accident and luck.’’

And she never forgot that if her own mother hadn’t had the foresight to take her children across borders on trains then sail to the United States, “we would have been murdered by the Nazis.’’

Greer and her husband came to Miami in 1947 from Jacksonville, where she worked as a public-health nurse, starting programs for unwed mothers and a mothers’ milk bank.

She initially worked as a visiting nurse, son Bruce said. Her territory took her to parts of Southwest Miami-Dade where she saw deep poverty.

“We’d hear stories of struggles and her great satisfaction in giving polio shots,’’ he said. She even once delivered a baby.

Greer took a job with the state health services in 1959, became regional mental health coordinator, then deputy director of the county’s Office of Health Services. In 1983, when her boss moved on, she replaced him.

Along the way, Greer earned a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University.

A profile in the Florida Nursing News at the time noted that she oversaw “a grab-bag of community health services, including two nursing homes, a prison medical program, an alcohol and drug abuse program, a home care program, a mental health clinic and a primary care center.’’

Presiding over a $27 million budget, Greer supervised 700 employees, and recommended, set and carried out public-health policy.

She saw nursing not simply as “sitting at the bedside. It’s improving the quality of life of the people you’re caring for, by whatever route.’’

She noted that many nurses preferred more glamourous jobs in critical care or neo-natal units.

“The kinds of clients we serve — the indigent elderly, street alcoholics and the like — aren’t always attractive,’’ but serving them presented both “challenges and satisfaction.’’

Greer said that her promotion came at a time when the federal government was shifting financial responsibility for social services to local authorities.

“The local tax base is narrower and people don’t want to be taxed, even though they want the services,’’ she lamented. “If these programs didn’t exist, people would be dying at home or in the emergency room at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s inpatient facilities.’’

After retiring in 1987, Greer traveled the world. She had a fondness for China, which she visited three times, her son said.

“My mother was very academic and wanted to learn about different people and cultures,’’ Bruce Greer said.

In addition to her son, Frances Greer is survived by daughter Barbara Greer of New York City. Frances Greer was buried next to her husband at Miami’s Mount Nebo Memorial Gardens.

The family suggests memorial donations to Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, 11935 Old Cutler Rd., Miami, FL 33156.

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