Lillie Mae Green, who with her husband, Frank, opened Green’s Grocery in 1950 in Gainesville, has died at age 99.
The Greens were well-known for their philanthropy in the community. In 2001, they gave a $4 million gift from the estate of their son, Ronnie, for what became the Ronnie Green Heart Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. Frank Green died in 2008. Ronnie Green died in 2001.
“People continue to send letters to the Greens or get word to them about how the Ronnie Green Heart Center saved their lives,” said Maggie James, signature gift officer for the Medical Center Foundation. “It truly has saved thousands upon thousands of lives.”
In 2007, Lillie Mae Green made a signature gift of her own, originally anonymously, to the Medical Center Foundation to purchase the hospital’s first Da Vinci Robotic Surgical System, which helps complete difficult surgeries while remaining minimally invasive. The hospital now has three robotic surgical systems, and between them, more than 5,000 patients have been helped.
Her gift jump-started the robotic surgery program at the hospital which now has doctors from across the country coming to it to train.
“At that time, that was really on the cutting edge. It was at the forefront of what was happening in cardiac care,” said LeTrell Simpson, chair of the Medical Center Foundation board of trustees.
The system was originally for cardiac procedures, but with other advancements in technology, it is now used for a number of other procedures.
But Lillie Mae Green was most known for being co-owner at Green’s Grocery, which became well-known for its fresh meats and selection of homemade cakes and pies. The Greens and their son owned and operated the store until 1995 when it was sold to current owner Ed Waller.
Waller, who worked for the Greens when he was a teenager, said she was a sweet, but stern lady who had an unbelievable work ethic. She was at the store almost every day until it was sold.
“It’s just the end of an era,” Waller said. “It really is.”
He said what most people don’t know about Lillie Mae Greene is she actually worked behind the meat counter as the butcher for a while. She learned it all from a book.
“That’s when the size of beef was – you were breaking the whole thing down,” Waller said. “And then she would go home and bake cakes after work, which was just amazing. And then they would get there at 4 in the morning.”
Although both founders of the store have died, Waller promised to keep their memory alive by continuing to run the store the same way it has always been run.
“We try to keep the same quality of product and customer service that they started,” Waller said. “That’s where I kind of learned it.”
Green also was a contributor to Young Harris College, where her son attended. In 2010, the college dedicated its lobby to the Greens, naming it the Green Family Lobby. In 2011, Lillie Mae Green received the Outstanding Friend Award, the highest award the Alumni Association can give. And in 2015 she received the President’s Medallion, the highest award the college as a whole can give.
She even gave one of the largest commitments to the college's most recent campaign, which helped build Enotah Hall, a residential facility that houses 200 students.
“She’s truly been one of the most extraordinary benefactors in the history of the college,” said Jimmy Owen, vice president for advancement at Young Harris. “She and her husband, Frank, had a deep love for this place.”
Owen said Green had the greatest memory and told the greatest stories. When he visited her recently, Lillie Mae Green told him she missed getting the chance to go see the school more often to see the mountains and reminisce on memories of her late son.
Owen said she was constantly talking about the college’s beauty.
“Something else that was remarkable about Lillie Mae was her spirit,” Owen said. “I think she inspired so many here at Young Harris and in Gainesville and beyond with the way she lived her life. It truly made an impact, so she will be sorely missed.”
A memorial service for Lillie Mae Green will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 25, at Gainesville First United Methodist Church, where she was a member.