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DENNIS FREELAND: 1956-2002

DENNIS FREELAND: 1956-2002

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"...One of the last times he smiled was when he heard that Steve Spurrier had resigned...."

Dennis Freeland, who was managing editor of The Flyer from 1992 to 1994, editor from 1994 until 2000, and the paper’s sports columnist throughout his tenure, died at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at his home, from the effects of a brain tumor. He was only 45. In the words of his sister Evonne -- who with his mother and father and other members of the family and friends kept a round-the-clock vigil during his last several weeks: “His departure was very warm and peaceful. We were all surrounding his bed, touching him and speaking to him. When he finally let go it was with a very gentle release, almost a quiet sigh. I couldn't imagine that he could have wished for anything better....”

Dennis was bashful about being photographed. He should not have been. Observe the smile in this picture. It beamed straight through from his heart to yours. Anybody who ever heard Dennis laugh was ennobled. Anybody who ever read Dennis -- who wrote wonderful sports columns during all the years he served as Flyer editor (presiding over numerous awards, his own and others') -- was privileged. Anybody who knew him was lucky. Anybody who was affected by his presence in the world -- which is almost everybody, whether they knew it or not -- was blessed. A native of Paris, Tennessee, Dennis Freeland was always motivated as much by benevolence as by ambition. And he had courage and leadership qualities to spare. While still in high school in 1972, he became the de facto head of the Henry County McGovern-for-President campaign when established local Democrats demurred. As a Memphian later on, he was active in any number of civic enterprises. He devoted much of his time to Anytown, U.S.A., a non-profit organziation dedicated to bringing disadvantaged and minority youth into positions of influence later in life. A hugely talented writer himself, he excelled as well as a developer of talent at The Flyer. Freeland inspired loyalty. He also inspired the best effort in those working for him, and he was personally tireless in setting an example for others, working well beyond the perimeters of the 9 to 5 schedule. His weekly sports column was as reliable and readable and illuminating a source of information as could be imagined, and his frequent cover stories for The Flyer, on a wide variety of subjects, were state-of-the-art -- brimming with insight and humor and always steady of purpose. Dennis was diagnosed as a stroke victim in 1999 but, after an extensive rehabilitation, returned to service -- as Flyer editor and, later, as the first editor of the Flyer website. Although he would tell you that the act of writing had become more difficult, the results were always superb -- right up to the point last year when his vision began to ebb, a fact which led, ultimately, to the diagnosis of his tumor and which forced his early retirement. He leaves his wife Perveen; his parents, Bill and Juanita Freeland of Paris; his sister, Evonne Williams, also of Paris; and his beloved daughter, Sarah Feroza. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, memorials be sent to Anytown, to the Memphis Literacy Counil, or to the charity of one’s choice. A memorial will be held in Memphis at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the indoors lounge at AutoZone Park, and another on Thursday in Paris, at Eastwood Church of Christ at 800 Eastwood, at 2 p.m. Again, from sister Evonne: "...He wanted a joyous send off. Nothing sad or depressing.... We have shed many ourselves. But, try to remember that Dennis didn't want the tears, he wanted smiles and laughs as we remember who he was and what he meant to each of us. Remember him with a smile....P.S. Just as he had wanted to, he did this with dignity and humor all the way to the end. One of the last times he smiled was when he heard that Steve Spurrier had resigned. Classic Dennis!" --Jackson Baker.

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