There will be no further up-to-the-minute weather reports sent without fail every morning to a vulnerable community. No deeply familiar and somehow reassuring voice, broadcasting across the airwaves; no more morning news sent via email. Jean Greaux is gone and it will be a very long time before this community comes to grips with this terrible loss. Maybe never.
It seems like Jean has been there, for everyone, from the beginning of time. And without the need for praise, without a shred of self-aggrandizement. He shunned fanfare. (Well, except once a year at Carnival time, when he could be found on J’ouvert morning going down the road with Cool Session Brass).
Meanwhile, he gave heart, soul, and voice to the community where he was born, that he loved.
When an organist is needed last minute for a funeral or just Sunday morning service, we will have to find someone else. He started playing at St. Anne’s Chapel in Frenchtown when he was 11. After COVID closed the churches to their congregations, he used his technological expertise to set up a system that would broadcast the service from Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral on St. Thomas, including the organ music, across the territory over WSTA radio’s airwaves every Sunday morning.
Adaptation was his specialty.
He easily shapeshifted between what he called his civilian life and his civic life when at 16, he volunteered for St. Thomas Rescue, where he did just that – rescue people – for ten years. Sometimes he failed. But Jean was able to add even the failures to his vast trove of experience.
He told a Source reporter in 2006 that of the years he worked with Rescue dealing with shooting victims, near-drownings, and heart attacks, what stuck out in his mind was a woman who had a stroke while driving her car in the parking lot of Lockhart Gardens. “Despite desperate attempts to save her life – she died,” he said, within sight of the Roy L. Schneider Hospital.
Despite his tender age at the time, he said, “I often think that seeing death first-hand gives some immunity when close relatives die.”
It may have been his early years at Rescue that fostered his great passion for law enforcement. A police official once remarked, “Jean has the heart and soul of a cop.”
He kept a scanner and carried a firearm. Even after he wasn’t intimately involved with Rescue, he would often make his way to emergencies to lend a hand. That also allowed him to bring first-hand knowledge to the community once he began his civilian career in journalism.
It may not have been his first love, but anyone who knew him would agree; he was always a trustworthy and professional reporter and newsman. His heroes in the field included Peter Jennings and Bernard Shaw.
Upon reflection, it is not hard to see the similarities between our local news hawk and these two journalism giants. Jennings started his media career extraordinarily early in life after dropping out of high school and later college. Jennings, a Canadian, was and remains the youngest television news anchor in U.S. history, starting with ABC at 26.
Jean was still in high school when he apprenticed with the communications director of the V.I. Police Department under Gov. Roy L. Schneider. Jean was 17 when he landed his first job as a news broadcaster at WSTA. Two years later, Jean had the good fortune of meeting former CNN anchor Shaw when he was on St. Thomas attending a cable television conference. That experience marked Shaw as Jean’s primary role model.
Shaw, one of the few African Americans serving as anchors back then, may have set the stage for Jean’s perfectionism and dispassionate reporting. Shaw told NPR, “The more intense the news story I cover, the cooler I want to be. What I strove for was perfection, which was impossible to achieve.”
Jean Greaux came damn close, though. He shot for excellence in all of his endeavors, from organist to anchorman to public information officer to media director.
His moral compass was unchanging, even when his career was not. When he left his job as news director for WVWI to work for Gov. John P. deJongh Jr. – a tricky move for a journalist – he maintained his straightforward presentation of the facts when offering up information from Government House, and indeed all of the government agencies, to the Virgin Islands news corps he was previously part of. Until his death, he did the same thing for the Water and Power Authority, an agency constantly in the news and often under direct fire from the media and community alike.
While known for “occasionally” blowing off steam privately using his favorite adjective, which begins with an F and ends with a K, before accepting the nature of the world he was negotiating, he never, ever lost his cool in his role as public information officer or news anchor.
The other thing he never lost from his days at St. Thomas Rescue was his total commitment to his neighbors. He never said no to a request for a favor. He never turned off his two phones. He never ignored other people’s losses. No request was too meager for his attention. And he was bombarded by a ceaseless barrage of meager requests. But under the straightforward, “just the facts,” professional veneer was a loving, generous, very tall native son.
And speaking of requests, this tribute cannot be completed without an extremely important personal media anecdote.
When we started the Source in 1998, former Daily News editor Penny Feuerzeig, who was instrumental in helping get the Source off the ground all those years ago, arranged a meeting with Jean and WVWI Radio One owner Randy Knight. We sat at Randy’s conference table and asked if they would consider reading our nascent stories on the morning news, with attribution and the URL as a way to put the fledgling internet newspaper on the media map. Almost before we finished the question, “yes” was the answer. And true to his word, and much more, including playing Source behind-the-scenes news director and writing for the Source, Jean continued reading our stories with attribution and the URL for many years. It is not disingenuous to conjecture if he had not, the Source would not be.
One more crucial point about his heart; he loved his dog Uno with all of it. To see a man of his stature lovingly fawn over the tiny Chihuahua was a joy to behold.
As we ask ourselves in our grief how we can honor him, I offer a few words from the 2006 Source interview.
“Education is the most important issue facing the Virgin Islands.” He says for the past 16 years, he has listened to politician after politician use “education as a rallying cry.” But, he says, “Education is in the most dismal state in the history of the territory.” He says the solution is to “dismantle the layers and layers of bureaucracy in the system.” He says the proof of the system’s deficiencies lies in the young people it has failed. “Just try to have a conversation with a young person,” he says. “They come out of high school and have to take remedial courses before they can go on in college.”
If Jean Greaux is looking upon us from Somewhere Else, perhaps we can show our love by doing something about this. For, sadly, he was right 15 years ago, and sadly, he is still right. And now we must add to education’s responsibility the dire need for mental health support services for our youth during this time of unprecedented upheaval, most particularly for them.
Author’s note: Among his other self-effacing characteristics was Jean’s dislike for having his picture taken. I am grateful to the people who found one and forwarded it. The one we chose offered the best clarity for publishing purposes.