The Accidental Politician

After five years in office, enigmatic Darlene Green has become a force to be reckoned with in St. Louis

As she relates the experience, Green's composure suddenly gives way to tears. She apologizes as she grabs a tissue. "I apologize -- I hadn't thought about this in so long," she says. "I never did this before."

Green was just a young child herself as she struggled with her leadership role. "I remember climbing on the shelf to get the sugar to make Kool-Aid, I was that little," she says. "But they were littler than me, so, you know, that's what I had to do, and it was OK -- because when you are in a family, at least for me, that was my responsibility. I always remember that, being that I was the older one, doing the right thing. It was what my mother expected, and that's how I was raised."

Green's style in office is a marked departure from that of her predecessor, who was known for being confrontational.
Jennifer Silverberg
Green's style in office is a marked departure from that of her predecessor, who was known for being confrontational.
According to former Comptroller Virvus Jones, he "had a different way of expressing my disagreement on issues than Darlene does."
Jennifer Silverberg
According to former Comptroller Virvus Jones, he "had a different way of expressing my disagreement on issues than Darlene does."

Barry Leibman, co-owner of Left Bank Books, remembers Green when she was a teenager attending Vashon High School. Back then, he taught at a program called Sophia House, a former residence at 23rd and Hebert streets that had been converted into school and study rooms for an after-school program started by the Jesuits at St. Louis University for boys from the city's North Side. Four nights a week, for three hours each night, Green would show up to study, do her homework, receive lessons on such things as language skills and vocabulary-building. Leibman says the program drew high achievers and had a successful rate of placing students in the most competitive universities, including Harvard. It also sought to instill in the teens a sense of community service. "We did not want the students to just get an education and get out of the community," Leibman says. "We wanted them to get an education and come back to help."

He recalls Green vividly: "She was very smart, very self-assured even at that age and very sweet, which, as a teenager, translates into an adult as a kind person, which she is. She kind of exhibited a lot of the really strong qualities that she exhibits as an adult."

One of the counselors at Sophia House was Virvus Jones. "It started out as an all-male prep that served kids who lived in the old Pruitt-Igoe project, and she was one of the first women to break the sex barrier. She had a quiet determination," Jones says. "We had some people who expressed their confidence level a lot louder than Darlene -- she was always kind of the quiet, soft-spoken person she is now, but very determined. She was very dedicated to getting and making a better life for herself."

Green says she treasured the time spent studying at Sophia House; because her siblings were now older, she could afford to sneak away the time for herself. "It was one of the first places girls could go," she says, "I'd go home, do my chores, and then it was, like, "Can I go, can I go?' And I went. One of my best girlfriends and I would go, and I would really study, believe it or not -- that was fun to us," she says.

When it came time to choose a college, Green, who'd toured schools on the East Coast and attended a summer program at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., applied to Washington University and Boston University. She was accepted at both schools. She was headed for Boston. But her cautious nature led to some last-minute worries. Although she had a scholarship package including tuition and room and board, Green didn't have the money to get to Boston, and even if she did, how would she ever afford to return home for visits? She wrote to Wash. U. officials, asking whether she could get financial aid to live on campus, and they said yes. She stayed in St. Louis.

"Sometimes I have second thoughts and wish I had left, because it is good to have experiences outside your hometown," she says. But she could live on campus, away from home, and Green says she figured she could manage better there. She majored in business administration with an eye toward working in the accounting field, and she had her first full-time job before she graduated, when an internship at Brown Shoe in Clayton turned into an offer of permanent full-time employment. She finished her studies at night and graduated in 1978.

Green worked at Brown Shoe for three years, then did a stint as an auditor for the Missouri Public Service Commission in Jefferson City and, for five years, worked as an assistant comptroller at Columbia College in Columbia, Mo. In the mid-'80s, as her five-year marriage was ending (she declines to talk about her ex-husband), she returned to St. Louis and took a job working for the May Co., handling accounting for its shopping-centers division. Back in St. Louis, she ran into Freeman Bosley Jr., whom she had known in high school, though not well. He had been friends with her cousin and her ex-husband. In 1986, Bosley, then the city clerk, offered her a job as financial manager in his office. She accepted. After Bosley was elected mayor, Green followed him to City Hall, taking the job of budget director in 1993.

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