Wilfred W. Greene, Jr. was born in South Providence on June 12, 1937, the son of Rita Kearns of Irish descent and Wilfred William Greene, a man of Native American ancestry who ran an asphalt business.
In South Providence during the middle of the past century a young man was known and respected mainly by his athletic or fistic prowess. By those standards Willie Greene was a legend. Throughout the neighborhood he was known in his youth as tough, agile, and athletic. He won medals in swimming, track and field, and football.
As he grew to manhood, Willie served his country as a member of the U.S> Army where he refined his skill as a fighter. Upon discharge, he entered the sport of professional boxing and became “Wild Willie” Greene. During an action-packed career, he became the New England middleweight champion and the seventh-ranked middleweight in the world when there was only one middleweight division and one official ranking. His most impressive victory was a TKO against former world welterweight champion Johnny Saxton.
After his competitive days were over, Willie became the chief sparring partner for Boston’s Paul Pender, when Paul was the undisputed world middleweight champion. He stated to me that Willie—if properly trained and managed—could also have been world champion.
In 1976, when I established a Native American Heritage Committee of Rhode Island’s Bicentennial of Independence Commission (ri76), Willie was among the first to join. At various commemorative events, where the Native American contribution to our state was recognized, Willie represented that community receiving various proclamations on its behalf. It was in this capacity that “Wild Willie,” son of an Irish mother, was transformed into “Eagle Heart” – a recognition of the Native American Heritage transmitted to him by his father. From that point onward to the end of his productive life, he worked ceaselessly to advance the cause of Native American rights and culture, eventually assuming the leadership of the reassembled Seaconke Tribe of the Wampanoag Nation.
Willie’s unachieved but relentless goal was to receive federal recotnition for the Seakonke, but governmental officials at all levels offered him no assistance. The chief’s unrequited effort for tribal recognition became his personal Trail of Tears.
Willie and his loyal and dedicated wife, Gerry, also known as “Blue Dove,” raised six children—Rhoda, Desiree, Erin, Stasia, Wilfred, and John. He was also the godfather of my son Thomas. Willie was a handsome man – some likened him to actor Burt Reynolds, others said that Hollywood could properly cast him as a noble Indian chief. Actually, that is what he was!
During the last decade of his eventful life, Wilfred “Eagle Heart” Greene served as a director of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. In that capacity he had the honor of inducting posthumously two other Wampanoag chiefs- Massasoit Ousamequin and Metacomet. Had he lived in the 17th century, Eagle Heart would have been their equal in courage, daring, determination, and physical prowess. Add to those attributes Eagle Heart’s compassion.
On February 18, 2016 Eagle Heart passed away at his modest Warwick home surrounded by his family. He was buried with military honors in St. Ann’s Cemetery, Cranston.