Bob Greenberger was a paper man, just not the kind he’d always dreamt of being. So, well into his 30’s with three young boys and over his mother’s objections, he sold the family paper business and went to Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
Indeed, Greenberger would go on to become a legendary State Department correspondent, covering foreign policy under four presidents for the Wall Street Journal—and loving every minute of it, even if sometimes if wreaked havoc on his personal life. “I was exercising in front of the TV one morning and I saw that Secretary [of State Jim] Baker had decided to extend his stay in the Middle East,” says his wife of more than 50 years, Phyllis, “and I’m like, ‘Guess I better cancel that dinner party we’re supposed to be hosting tomorrow.’”
Greenberger was born March 7, 1942 in the seaside town of Neponsit, Queens. He was the middle child to sister Cynthia and younger brother John. He went to public school before transferring to the private Adelphi School, but he kept a tight knit group of 14 friends from childhood. They split their summers and afternoons between the basketball court and the beach, and every five years for the rest of their lives they got together for long weekend vacations at beaches around the world—a tradition that accelerated to every three years when they retired.
Bob met Phyllis Morel at a party in Manhattan in the early 1960s. By then he’d graduated from Brandeis University and his father had passed, leaving it to him to run the family’s successful paper business to support his mother and siblings. The couple married in 1966 and quickly had three boys, Scott in 1969, Erik in 1970 and Peter in 1973. When Peter was 18 months old, the family decamped to Washington where Greenberger would eventually join the Journal and began covering the State Department under Ronald Reagan.
Greenberger spent his early years on the beat covering the Sandistas and tumult in Central America, bringing his boys home a t-shirt that read in Spanish, “Don’t shoot, I’m a journalist!” He traveled with Baker to Europe during fall of the Soviet Union, this time bringing back a piece of the Berlin Wall. And during long negotiations in Saudi Arabia, he and Tom Friedman from the New York Times would play tennis, joking they were competing for the Jewish Tennis Championship of the majority-Muslim nation.
Journalism was a big part of at least two of his son’s lives. Scott became an author and executive editor the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline publication; Erik works for Gartner, a research and advisory company; and Peter is head of media at Twitter. Greenberger retired from journalism in the mid 2000s. He then filled his days ghostwriting a biography of Brooklyn Congressman Steve Solarz, contributing to Moment magazines and teaching an international relations course at Goucher College in Baltimore. Ever the paper man, his home study remains crammed with books and articles from newspapers and magazines—many of them he wrote himself.