In memory of a good and faithful servant,
Ralph Edward Greenlee (February 13, 1934-April 18, 2020)
Mr. Ralph Edward “Sonny” Greenlee died on April 18, 2020 in Black Mountain, North Carolina. He will be interred with military honors in the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain on April 22, 2020. A future memorial service will be planned for later this year, pending public health.
Born in Old Fort on February 13, 1934 and raised in Ridgecrest, he spent much of his early life in the Swannanoa Valley. He was an avid sportsman, dog lover, and horse whisperer who enjoyed hunting, marksmanship, and conducting horseback tours in the Pisgah National Forest.
He attended Stephens-Lee High School in Asheville, graduating with honors and throwing mean pitches on its baseball team. After graduation, he entered the U.S. Army.
His military experience took him abroad and changed his life. While enlisted, he was stationed in Germany and later was injured in a serious accident that resulted in the partial amputation of his left leg. He spent several years in Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., determinedly learning how to walk again despite a discouraging prognosis. He organized occasional wheelchair races for fellow patients. These experiences became the foundation of a decades-long career advocating for veterans, people with disabilities, Black patients and the underdog.
Mr. Greenlee took advantage of the GI Bill and attended college at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in Greensboro, earning a degree in sociology. He later completed a master’s in social work at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta).
A longtime resident of Greensboro, he became a 30-year employee of the Veterans Administration (now Veterans Affairs), in both its Salisbury and Winston-Salem offices. He was among the first African-American social workers to represent the federal agency in the state, and his territory spanned the western and central parts of North Carolina. He retired in 1994.
But he considered protecting, providing and planning for his family to be his most important job. He was a devoted husband and father. When his daughters brought home new boyfriends, he just “happened” to be cleaning his gun collection. He also played an active role in the lives of many nieces and nephews, teaching them how to tie their shoes backwards and ride bicycles, and paying them notoriously cheap wages for household chores. Though one of the youngest of 11 children, he was the family’s patriarch and generous with his advice and support (though one sister famously quipped he would hold onto a nickel “until the buffalo screamed”).
He was active in the Aggie Club, St. James Presbyterian Church, and the American Legion in Greensboro. He was a great lover of TV judge shows; NASCAR; old-time gospel music; Carolina basketball; and a cold beer on a hot day. His skills were many: writing elegant and effective complaint letters; gardening; understanding the ins and outs of veterans policy; and fixing just about anything. Amputee or not, he could sometimes be found climbing trees or his roof to cut wayward limbs or check for leaks.
In addition to his parents, James Hezekiah Greenlee and Florence Stepp Greenlee, he is preceded in death by his sisters, Johannah Durham, Erlene Hamilton, Elizabeth Harper, Margaret Clinkscales, Fannie Carney, Dorothy Jones, and Pansy Hooper, and his brother, James Greenlee.
He leaves behind his beloved wife of 52 years, Betty Daniels Greenlee. He is survived by their three daughters: Dionne Greenlee-Jones (Roy) of Swannanoa; Dr. Gale Greenlee of Berea, Kentucky; and Dr. Cynthia Greenlee of Durham. He will be dearly missed by his sister, Precious Hill of Black Mountain, and uncle Hubert Logan (Rachel) of Forest, Virginia. He will also be mourned by beloved nieces and nephews: Cheryl Harper of Black Mountain; William Hamilton of Indio, CA; Patricia Jones of Atlanta; James Greenlee, Jr. of Cincinnati; Karen Carney-Filmore of Oakland, CA; Tony Hooper of Swannanoa; Wendell Whiteside, also of Swannanoa; Vickie Hill of Atlanta; Michael Carney of Elk Grove, CA; Doulton Hill, Jr. of Black Mountain; and Terri Hooper of western North Carolina.
He and his wife also opened their doors and hearts to chosen children, including Anthony Cameron of Columbia, South Carolina; Helene Cameron of La Plata, Maryland; Willa (“Lali”) Carter of Belgium; Mari Noguchi of El Cerrito, CA; and Donna Singletery of Charlotte.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that gifts be made in Ralph Edward “Sonny” Greenlee's honor to the Original Thomas Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church Restoration Corporation, a Black Mountain nonprofit he supported for many years. Gifts may be mailed to the organization at P.O. Box 895, Black Mountain, NC 28711 or submitted via PayPal to email@example.com.