A. C. Greene, who was born Alvin Carl Greene, Jr., on November 4, 1923, in Abilene, Texas, was a historian, newspaper columnist, author, and educator. He was the son of Alvin Carl Greene, Sr., and Johnnie Marie (Cole) Greene. Better known as “A. C.” to friends and acquaintances, Greene legally changed his name to “A. C.” in 1953. He graduated from Abilene High School in 1940 and then attended Phillips University, Kansas State Teachers College of Pittsburg, and Abilene Christian College (now University), where he graduated in 1948. He conducted graduate studies at Hardin-Simmons University and the University of Texas at Austin. Greene’s education was interrupted by his service as a Pharmacist’s Mate, Second Class, in the United States Navy and United States Marines in the Pacific Theater and China from 1942 until 1946.
Greene’s love of literature was instilled at an early age by his grandmother, Maude E. Cole, the head librarian at the Abilene Carnegie Public Library. Greene began his journalism career at the Abilene Reporter-News, where he served as amusements editor from 1948 to 1959. He also owned a bookstore in Abilene from 1952 to 1957. From 1960 to 1968 he worked as an editorial columnist and book editor for the Dallas Times Herald. Greene left the paper to concentrate on writing and received a Dobie-Paisano fellowship to complete his notable work, A Personal Country, in 1969. He also worked as a news commentator at KERA-TV in Dallas from 1970 to 1977, and he wrote the “Texas Sketches” column for the Dallas Morning News for nearly twenty years. During the course of his career, Greene also taught journalism at Hardin-Simmons University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Southern Methodist University.
Greene was an active member of the Texas State Historical Association (where he was named a Fellow in 1990), the West Texas Historical Association, the Writers Guild of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the East Texas Historical Association. He served as assistant editor and later as executive editor of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly. Greene wrote and edited more than twenty books but was perhaps best-known for his work, The 50 Best Books on Texas, published in 1981, which was widely acclaimed as the definitive reference tool on Texas literature.
Considered an expert on Texas history and culture, Greene earned the unofficial title “dean of Texas letters.” His reputation extended beyond Texas, with his national appeal becoming securely established in 1983, when he became a contributor on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. When the Republican National Convention was held in Dallas the following year, his commentary and anecdotes were in such great demand, he granted sixty-three interviews to the major news outlets covering the event.
Faced with incurable cardiomyopathy, in June 1988 Greene underwent a heart transplant and two years later published Taking Heart, in which he described the experience of receiving the heart of a thirty-one-year-old woman who had died from a brain tumor. Ten months into his recovery, his wife of thirty-nine years, Betty Dozier Greene, succumbed to liver cancer on April 24, 1989. A year later, Green married Judy Dalton Hyland. After his recovery, he continued to serve as resident professor of Texas Studies at the University of North Texas and as coordinating director of its Center for Texas Studies from 1986 to 1992. He then served as emeritus director for the center from 1992 to 1997.
Greene received a number of prestigious honors throughout his lifetime, including the Lon Tinkle Award from the Texas Institute of Letters in 1987 and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Book Festival in 1998. Since 2001 the West Texas Book Festival has given a lifetime achievement award that is named the A. C. Greene Award to Texas authors.
A. C. Greene died on April 5, 2002, at the age of seventy-eight, at his home in Salado, Texas, and was buried near Albany in Shackelford County, Texas, at the ranch of his longtime friend Bob Green. Ironically, it was not Greene’s transplanted heart that he had received some fourteen years earlier that failed him, but the same illness that had befallen his heart donor, brain cancer. He was survived by his wife Judy, by three sons and a daughter from his first marriage, and by two stepdaughters from his second marriage. A.C. Greene’s contemporaries heralded him for his unique ability to investigate and synthesize the minutiae of Texas history. He left a rich heritage of newspaper columns, articles, personal papers, and books as his enduring legacy. The University of Texas at Arlington acquired the bulk of Greene’s personal papers in 1993 and 1998 and in 2013 served as the official repository for the A.C. Greene Papers.