Juanita Greene, a former Miami Herald reporter who slugged it out first with male journalists who didn’t see a need for women in the newsroom and later with corporations and government officials who didn’t see a need for environmental protections, died Sunday after one last and unsuccessful bout, this time with Alzheimer’s. She was 93.
“With her passing, I feel that I not only lost a mother but that the world is missing a force of nature,” said Helena Sims, one of her daughters. “I already miss her.”
Greene was the Miami Herald’s first environmental writer, a beat she bullied the newspaper’s publishers into creating in 1969. And many of the reporters who held the job later considered her the best, churning out stories on everything from backdoor political deals to disappearing wood rats.
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“For all the Herald environmental reporters who followed her — and there have been many — it was a routine experience to pull archives and clips on some issue or another and find that Juanita had written about it decades earlier,” said Curtis Morgan, a Herald assistant city editor and former environmental writer. “And written about it better.”
Born on a rice plantation near Lake Charles, Louisiana, Greene became interested in journalism while in high school. Attending Louisiana State University during World War II, she took advantage of the absence of so many of the male students — they were off in combat — to rise to editor of the student newspaper, a job that would almost certainly have gone to a man under ordinary circumstances.
After graduation, she worked at the Tampa Times and the Daytona Beach News-Journal before getting what she would later call “the most exciting phone call of my lifetime” from editors at the Herald. She joined the paper in 1956, when female reporters mostly covered tea parties and fashion for what were known as the women’s pages. Instead, Greene battled her way into covering city hall and the federal courthouse.
But it was while she was covering a Florida cabinet meeting about whether the state should buy some land amid the sugar industry’s vast South Florida holdings that she found the real inspiration of her career: a talk by pioneering Florida environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Soon Greene was a regular visitor to the offices of Herald publisher John Knight, lobbying for regular coverage of environmental issues, a beat that was unknown at either the Herald or most other newspapers. “She was a warrior,” said Alan Farago, who followed Greene as conservation chair at Friends of the Everglades and recalls that Knight finally “sort of grudgingly admitted that Biscayne Bay, in front of [the newspaper’s old offices at 1 Herald Plaza] wasn’t the way it used to be, and more attention needed to be paid.”
Greene’s ferocious approach to the beat sometimes bordered on activism — she sometimes even wrote Herald editorials on environmental issues, unusual for a reporter — and when she retired from the paper in 1987, she was ready to stage a frontal assault on corporate and political forces she believed harmful to the environment.
She helped lead Friends of the Everglades, the group founded by Douglas, and encouraged it to file lawsuits when the state began altering the terms of a plan to restore the Everglades. The legal action finally forced a settlement that resulted years later in Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to spend $880 million cleaning up the Everglades. She was also a driving force behind the creation of Biscayne National Park.
Plans for memorial services — perhaps in Miami where Greene lived half a century, perhaps in Tallahassee where she moved in 2007 as her health began to fail — are pending. Those interested in attending can email Greene’s daughter Helena Sims at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her survivors include Sims and another daughter, Monica Mathis, both of Tallahassee, and a granddaughter, Catherine Johnson, of Washington, D.C.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to Friends of the Everglades.
An earlier version of this story misstated James Knight’s position at the Herald and incorrectly attributed a quote.