On January 26, St. George resident Leonard Greenhalgh was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from Dartmouth College, one of the social justice awards associated with the school’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration. Specifically, the award honors Greenhalgh’s pioneering work in developing executive education programs for minority, women and Native American business owners.
Greenhalgh is better known in St. George for his work transforming the old John Meehan Quarry (later the Alfred Hocking Quarry) on the Clark Island Road into a wildlife refuge that he eventually named the Wheeler Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Coincidentally, Greenhalgh was also notified last month that he has been awarded a 2016 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award for that 30-year environmental restoration effort, which he financed almost entirely at his own expense.
Greenhalgh readily admits that in neither case did he set out to make a lifetime commitment to the work for which he is now being honored. Speaking of the Dartmouth award, he says, “That is how my career has been. It hasn’t been carefully planned but my heart has always gone out to women and minorities and poor people.” And, as he notes on the Sanctuary’s website, “I didn’t start out looking for an environmental restoration and preservation project.” In fact, he says, a chance—and at that time rare—encounter with an osprey carrying a fish in the summer of 1986 led him to a nest in the middle of a flooded quarry on the Clark Island Road. “As I was leaving I saw a small For Sale sign by the old quarry office. My only thought was that this unique nesting site had to be protected.”
Greenhalgh was born and spent his early years in a working-class neighborhood of Manchester, England. His parents had an opportunity to emigrate to the United States for work in 1959. “And then the whole world opened up to me,” Greenhalgh recalls. “In England they decided I had a future as a scientist so I was way ahead in science when I got to America. But I had no idea about colleges.”
On the advice of an adult mentor he applied to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a vague idea of pursuing a degree in chemical engineering. But almost as soon as he got there he realized that field wasn’t for him. “I went to a Jacques Cousteau movie that was showing on campus. There was this guy swimming around a coral reef with this woman in a bikini. So I said I wanted to become a marine biologist—anything would be better than being a chemical engineer! A distant relative said that the University of Rhode Island (URI) was a good school for oceanography so that is where I went.”
Greenhalgh’s time at URI went well academically, but the civil rights movement was also front-and-center during those years. “So it’s the 1960s and college campuses were caught up in the civil rights movement. I spent some time in the deep South with a roommate and I realized how bad people were being treated—whites-only drinking fountains and all the rest. I just thought this was wrong.” But at this point that conviction implied no particular vocational path. Then a car accident just before graduation from URI left him temporarily confined to a wheelchair, so he took a desk job with a corporation.
He did well in the corporate world and was rapidly promoted. One of his old URI professors suggested he should capitalize on this success and return to URI for a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree, which he did, using his business experience and the MBA to launch a career as a business consultant. “That’s when I first realized just how much the system was rigged against women and minorities.”
Eventually Greenhalgh burned out on business consulting. “I was good at it, but it began to be boring.” A friend who was a senior professor at Cornell University invited him to come there to get a PhD in business, with a focus on labor relations. “Basically I worked on civil rights projects,” Greenhalgh notes.
One such project was aimed at helping disabled people become integrated into mainstream workplace environments. Then the school’s dean gave him a job working with people who were going to lose their jobs as the State of New York closed its mental hospitals. “Nobody had ever studied job insecurity. In my travels interviewing people around the state I found that the people who were having the hardest time were blacks, hispanics and women. These were the people most recently hired and so were the first to be forced to leave in a layoff. Discrimination made it difficult for these people to find re-employment. So I got heavily involved with the employment risks for women and minorities.”
After earning his PhD in 1978 he was offered a faculty position at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. The next year the federal government’s Small Business Administration began talking to Tuck about the increasing proportion of minorities in the United States who needed to have jobs and needed to be incorporated into the country’s business system. “Minorities were starting up businesses but they were failing—they didn’t have the background because they had always been kept out of business ownership. So, given my experience at Cornell, I was asked to teach in the program.”
It wasn’t until Greenhalgh was faced with a decision about whether to take a job at another business school that he came to Tuck’s dean with a proposal to make Tuck’s small, once-a-year minority business program into a year-round part of the curriculum. He officially became director of Programs for Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises in 2002 and Director of Native American Business Programs in 2003. This year there are at least 11 short courses scheduled. “I’ve also been working with veterans and other communities—if anybody has faced historical discrimination I’m there to help. My portfolio has become more national over the years.”
Unlike with business consulting, Greenhalgh has never been bored by his civil rights work. “Every time I run a program, I learn like crazy.” His work with people in Indian country is a case in point. “Their language is different, their culture is different, every reservation is different and it starts with mistrust because there have been 550 treaties that the United States has signed with Indian tribes and the United States government has broken every one of them, all 550.”
Greenhalgh’s civil rights work and his environmental interests—even while at Cornell he was deeply involved with rehabilitating endangered species through the Peregrine Fund—have run a parallel course for more than 40 years. His environmental restoration work at the old quarry on Clark Island Road took up his summers and weekends, and eventually led him to sell his home in Hanover and make St. George his primary residence. “Most of the civil rights stuff I do is intellectual and somewhat intangible,” he says. “So physically building a new pond gives me a tangible sense of accomplishment. And I don’t have to go to a gym to keep physically fit.” On a more serious note he adds, “Here, the animals are my community. And my other community is the handicapped, the women, the minorities, the native people who I try to serve.”—JW
PHOTOS: Top, Julie Wortman, bottom, Jocelyn Paquette