In Asheville journalism and political circles, few characters have stood out as much as Lewis Green, a journalist, writer and political muckraker who had no equal here. Green, 76, died Friday.

Green was a reporter for the Asheville Citizen-Times in the 1960s and possibly the ’70s, though I’m not sure about that. He came to work for the newspaper after serving in the Korean War, working alongside another veteran, John Parris, who came to the newspaper and made a name for himself.

At the Citizen-Times, Green gained a reputation as an irascible man who gave no quarter. In one legendary story, he got into a fist-fight with another newsroom character, beloved editor Jay Hensley, a man who wore his Democratic colors loud and proud and wasn’t afraid to use the newspaper to help advance his political leanings. So there you have two men who strongly held opinions — something had to give. I can’t remember what the fight was about, but charges were pressed and they went to court.

Green published poems and stories and wrote a couple of books, including And Scatter the Proud, which won him some acclaim.

I came to know Green as the publisher of two local rags, the Native Stone and then the Independent Torch. The Torch published monthly and it mostly contained the screeds and rantings of Green, a staunch Republican who unfailingly brought local Democrats into his writerly cross-hairs. The thing that made the paper interesting was that, with the rantings, there were always a few gossipy scoops of real news that nobody else had.
During elections, Green used the paper to paint the worst possible pictures of the political candidates he targeted. He did all that he could to make then-Asheville-City-Councilman Gene Ellison look bad. He jumped into the smarminess of the mayoral campaign between Charlie Worley and Brian Peterson, who was brought down for his relationship with a local prostitute. And perhaps most famously, he printed several stories about the alleged free-loving ways of former WLOSer Maggie Lauterer, a beloved local television personality who ran against U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor in one of the dirtiest campaigns we’ve ever seen in Western North Carolina.

The little paper, maybe six or eight pages printed on newsprint, was a must read for the Buncombe County Courthouse crowd of local lawyers and political office-holders. Green could always been seen stuffing a newspaper in each and every cubbyhole there in the clerk of court’s office, and people snatched it up to see who got smeared that week.

Green also was always highly critical of the Asheville Citizen-Times, its reporting and its staff members. Green referred to the newspaper as the “old grey whore” and took every chance he had to demean it as a product and an institution.

I had the honor of being the subject of one of Green’s articles. I had written a story about a local candidate who was in some political hot water, and in typical fashion, Green turned the story around to question my ethics and make me the target.

I’ll have to go back to my files and see if I still have the newspaper. I saved it as a badge of honor. I remember a number of local officials calling me to tweak me. They all asked how it felt to “be torched.” Not good, as I recall.

Green became a surly snake of a man who instilled fear in others. People would literally cross the street to get out of his way and be sure not to provoke him.

About six or seven years ago, Green made front page news at the Citizen-Times for being excommunicated from All Souls Episcopal Church. As far as we could tell, Green was the only member of any local church to be excommunicated, which is a highly unusual move. Green had made some very personal accusations about the Rev. Todd Donatelli, and at communion at one service, he walked up and gave the right reverend the finger right there in church. That tells you something about the man.

I’m sure that Green had some redeeming qualities. His obituary in the newspaper is here. I only knew him by reputation and ran into him a few times, most recently at the federal corruption trial of former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford. But his legacy as an angry man who tore things down rather than build them up is certainly a part of his life story.

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9 Comments

  1. I’m sorry to learn belatedly of Lewis’s passing. He didn’t make many friends, but then Buncombe County is not a very friendly place.

    Green challenged the status quo of left-wing group-think that rules the place, so of course he wasn’t popular . . . but he was, in most cases, spot-on. I remember well his attacks on Gene Rainey, whom he referred to as “Papa Doc”, the then-County Commission Chairman . . . of whom I was certainly no fan. The dichotomy of Buncombe that astounds me, and I am certain that it piqued Lewis as well, is how damned greedy most of its leaders and residents are while simultaneously espousing a “flower child” ethos.

    I have been gone from Buncombe County for 21 years now (thank God) . . . and it remains a mystery to me why Lewis didn’t leave as well. If a place treats me the way it did him, I depart posthaste.

  2. Like Pat, I met the infamous Lewis Green in a series of creative writing courses in the early 80’s. From the first class to the last, he never failed to shock, inspire and challenge me. Social and moral standards were not only fair game, but, I suspect, specifically chosen for the strength of reactions – like the verbal barrage directed at a handicapped student who, for entering his class late, was subjected to every foul word known to man and told that even cripples were expected to arrive on time or not at all. Lewis understood the power of words and the power that came from using them. Forget the nice way of saying something, he drove home his point with the best words, chosen for strength and effect. In doing so, he showed us all how to become strong writers demanding attention, not pasty-faced wannabes who grovel and hope to be read. His criticism was full-strength, but he was just as forthright with his praise as he drove students to produce works worthy of publication.

    I always believed that he waged a one-man war for honesty and truth, demanding through his often misunderstood actions that people open their eyes and mind to examine their beliefs and values, not just accept what they were taught or what was socially acceptable. When I say "I believe…", I know I believe for I have spent the years of my life A.LG. (After Lewis Green) tearing apart and examining everything before I embraced it as mine. For the lessons learned and the guidance given, I will be forever grateful. For the new eyes I received during those classes, I am eternally in debt. RIP dear one, the world has been diminished.

  3. I was sad to hear of the death of Lewis Green. He taught a creative writing course that I was fortunate enough to take in the early 80’s, and I left every class feeling the kind of "high" that no drug on earth can bestow. He was a great teacher, in that he was humble and intelligent enough to know that writing, in itself, cannot be taught. Instead, he taught us to SEE, to observe, to feel, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to tell our stories. He respected each one of us, never degraded anyone’s attempts at writing, and lifted our spirits and our confidence. They say if you can touch one person, and make their life better, you are a success. Well, he did, and he was.

  4. Lewis Green was a close personal friend of mine when I was growing up. Ive always admired his open-mouth approach to any given situation. I always left his house with no questions about anything that was bothering him.
    He taught me many things, most importantly would have to be the ol "two sides to every story". He taught me how to open my eyes to the world. He taught me to never take anything, especially life, for granted. Best of all, he taught me how to clear away a tree stump with an automatic rifle.

    I have always looked up to Lewis, and always will.

    "…holding your tongue because of what someone might think or say is the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard"

  5. Christopher A. Rogers says:

    He was a very good and misunderstood man. I met him through one of his sons and got to know the other two later. I visited him a few times (when with his son) and thouroughly enjoyed his company. He spoke his mind and that’s what most people didn’t like. If more people were as honest as Lewis W. Green, I truly believe we would be better off. He was an interesting and very opinionated person, but those (in my opinion) are admirable traits. If you didn’t like what he said about you then there’s something you’re doing wrong and need to change.

    May God bless my friend Lewis W. Green and his family.

  6. Lewis Green was a character and a half! And his own worse enemy! He had a brilliant writing talent and every time he got a break, he promptly hacked the publisher off and blew it. I know, I was one of those publishers and he threw himself out of my office one day (only way to explain it). 😉 but we remained friendly in a careful sort of way.

    I’ll miss him… and a lot more people than will admit it, will also. He was an original.

  7. I saw Mr. Green read once a couple years ago at Bobo Gallery. It was one of the oddest literary events I’ve ever attended–and not just because he was reading for an audience of myself and the two friends who were with me.

  8. Besides the Pete Bradley stuff, my favorite was his renaming of All Souls as Oral Souls Lesbyterian Church.

  9. This is a great post.

    I lived in fear that he would ever notice me…and he didn’t. But, unfortunately for Pete Bradley, Green FOR SURE noticed him and sparked the nastiest ruckus in Woodfin’s political history with his leaking of documents from the DA’s office that contained info about Bradley’s sexual proclivities.

    It was really nobody’s business (consenting adults, all) but even the AJC sent a reporter here to follow that soap opera for a while.

    Sex, lies and audiotape (Homer’s "fixin tickets")…in God-blessed WOODFIN!!!

    Amazing times…

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