Determined and Driven

Author: Cal Powell

Bridget Weaver Greene is enjoying her recent retirement, relishing the slower pace and doting on her three grandchildren.

When the grandkids are older, Greene will have no shortage of amazing stories to tell them about her life spent breaking barriers.

Greene was part of the first class of African-American students to enroll at Jenkins County High School in Millen, Ga., in the era of integration, graduating as valedictorian in 1972.

That fall, she became one of the first African-Americans to enroll at what was then the School of Home Economics at the University of Georgia.

“It was a turbulent time,” Greene said from her home in Statesboro. “One of the things our parents always emphasized, and I’m glad they did, was to make sure you did your part – do your best all the time.”

That simple advice served Greene well during incredibly tense times, both on campus and beyond. UGA accepted its first African-American students, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes, in 1961.

“We were greeted by a screaming, howling mob of students,” Hunter-Gault recalled in a 2011 interview with NPR.

Barely a decade later, tensions were still high.

“I guarantee you in Athens in 1972, there were still plenty of folks who did not welcome us with open arms,” Greene said.

Greene, though, said “overall, my experience (at UGA) was good.”

“I’m sure part of that is I’ve always had this kind of go-getter attitude,” she said, laughing. “I wasn’t a bashful type. I would just tend to overpower a lot of the prejudice with more positive stuff.”

A dietetics major, Greene graduated in June 1976, then completed a dietetic internship at the University of California-San Francisco before returning to Georgia to began a career as a clinical dietitian.

She worked at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Dublin and then at hospitals in Statesboro and Savannah.

In 1994, while working full time and raising two sons with her husband, James, she completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Georgia Southern.

Thanks in part to credit received for science courses taken during her dietetics program, Greene was able to complete the nursing degree in two years.

Her diverse career has seen her serve in a crisis stabilization unit for substance abuse and mental health clients to teaching classes and performing community outreach via food demonstrations and teaching.

She retired in January.

“I’ve been having fun,” she said. “Believe me, I’ve really been having fun.”

During her time in Athens, Greene worked in a food research lab and became friends with another African-American classmate, Marian Turnipseed, who also graduated in 1976 with a degree in clothing and textiles.

She recalled one particular faculty member with a laugh.

“Dr. Peifer, you talk about a sweetheart!” she said of James Peifer, associate professor from 1971-73 and acting head of the department. “He was quite the character. Stern, but always fair with all the students.”

Greene credits the “feisty personality” she inherited from her parents and an ambitious streak for helping her persist – and even thrive – through difficult times.

“In terms of my time at Georgia, I really didn’t have any major issues and I actually developed some lasting friendships there,” she said. “Part of that was from my upbringing and my parents teaching me I could do anything and I could be anybody – that I just needed to make sure I did my part.”