Remembering government's media 'firecracker'


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ST. THOMAS - Francesca Greve was a force to be reckoned with.

Her intensity - some might even say ruthlessness - was balanced by her generous spirit and deep conviction to the causes she believed in.

Her steadfast belief that Virgin Islanders needed direct access to their government, and that the government should communicate clearly and directly to its people, made her one of the territory's most influential public servants never elected to office, serving the territory's government for more than 40 years.

Greve died Monday.

She hated obituaries, and never disclosed her age.

"She was a firecracker," daughter Gigi Greve said. "She was only 5'3" but you would have thought you were talking to a linebacker."

In 1965 she moved her family to St. Thomas after her husband, John, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, retired.

A journalist who wrote for national publications such as the New York Times and Hearst's "American Weekly," Francesca Greve had almost 20 years experience in writing, photography and public relations before she arrived in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

She was one of the first to do a photo shoot with Marilyn Monroe and because of her career, Greve developed friendships with people such as astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

When Ronald Reagan visited St. Thomas years before he was president, Greve was the one who greeted him, according to her daughter.

Soon after moving to the island, she realized that there was a large divide between the people and the government. She approached Gov. Ralph Paiewonsky and was hired to do public relations for Government House.

In 1969, she joined the staff of the 8th Legislature and worked there for the next 43 years.

Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone said Francesca Greve is credited with helping to create the Legislature's Public Relations and Information Office in 1970, which has since been renamed Media Services.

"It filled a void, wherein the concept of publicizing senatorial activities was virtually unheard of. This accomplishment gives me a sense of immense satisfaction, though I can never forget it was achieved against all manner of resistance, often against overwhelming odds and circumstances unrealized by many members of the Legislature," Francesca Greve once said, according to a press release issued by the V.I. Legislature.

For many years she was the voice on the radio, reporting on the actions taken by the Senate.

In the beginning, she wrote correspondence and press releases for all the senators.

As a young girl, Gigi Greve would come to her mother's office after school and curl up under the desk to do her homework and listen to the politics.

One day, Sen. Elmo Roebuck came in yelling about something his colleague, Sen. Ruby Rouse, had said or did. He wanted a news release written about it.

A few minutes later, Rouse came in, hollering about Roebuck, also demanding a release be issued.

"When they left, I said, 'Mom, does this happen a lot?' " Gigi Greve said, laughing at the memory. "She said, 'Yes, you know it does.' "

"I said, "What do you do?' "

"She said she just lets the people know what the laws are and tries to give the public the information they need," she said.

While Francesca Greve never was elected to office, she helped a lot of others achieve that goal, including Sen. Lorraine Berry, with whom she worked for many years.

The two women were very similar - passionate, stubborn and opinionated - but they respected each other very much and shared a desire to highlight women's issues in the territory.

Toya Malone considered himself a writer when he graduated from college and returned to St. Thomas to work under Francesca Greve in Berry's office.

"She humbled me very quickly," he said.

In the beginning, his copy would come back covered in red correction marks, but eventually, the amount of red decreased until one day when he handed her something he had written, she said, "I don't need to read that," Toya Malone said.

"That was the day when I realized I had really made it," he said.

Greve's friends remember her for her amazing parties and her love of dancing.

"She held parties every holiday so that people who would be alone would have somewhere to go," Rochelle Ellick said.

"She was very enthusiastic, bubbly and intense," friend Jim Hague said. "She got along with everybody. She was a wonderful, wonderful person, and she was so dedicated to everything that she did."

Francesca Greve also will be remembered for her generous nature, always offering to buy lunch or give money to anyone who needed it.

Her daughter believes that generosity was borne out of a horrid childhood. Francesca Greve's mother left her at an orphanage known for cruelty to children, according to Gigi Greve.

"When you are beaten daily, it does something to your spirit. Kills you, makes you mean-spirited, or makes you rise up to seek justice," Gigi Greve said.

When Francesca Greve arrived in the Virgin Islands, she found a place where she could spend the rest of her life.

"She loved the islands, it was like her blood, it was her home," Gigi Greve said.

Just before Thanksgiving, Francesca Greve went up to stay with her daughter on the mainland. She had been ill, a bout of shingles damaged her nerves and left her with debilitating pain for the last five months of her life.

"When she realized she wasn't going to go home, that's when she gave up," Gigi Greve said.

"If there's one thing she would want to say it's go, go, go and get your shingles vaccination," she said.

Gigi Greve and her brother, John Greve Jr., are planning a memorial service and beach party for their mother to take place sometime this summer.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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