Freeland died at home on Sunday, January 6th, surrounded by friends and family.
"His departure was very warm and peaceful," said his sister, Evonne Williams. "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."
Freeland is survived by his wife Perveen Rustomfram, daughter Feroza, 6, his sister, and his parents, Bill and Juanita Freeland of Paris, Tennessee.
Freeland was a native of Paris. He graduated with honors from the University of Memphis in 1978 and worked for the city's public library system for a number of years. In the 1980s he started a desktop publishing business. He was named Flyer sports editor in 1991. In 1992 he became managing editor and was promoted to editor in 1995, a position he held until 2000.
During Freeland's tenure as editor the Flyer won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, including the Green Eyeshade Award for Investigative Reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1996.
He was active in several community organizations, including the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, the Memphis Literary Council, and the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ).
For 12 years Freeland was closely involved with NCCJ's summer camp for teens, Anytown. He told friends that his first experience with Anytown had helped him through a difficult period in his life, and in later years he worked as a camp workshop leader and served on the board of NCCJ. He would leave Memphis on Tuesday afternoon after the Flyer deadline and drive to Searcy, Arkansas, for five days at Anytown before returning to work on Sunday.
"He was a real source of inspiration to everyone who knew him, not just this past year but before that," said NCCJ executive director Jim Foreman. "He had a zest for life, a moral compass that most of us envy, and a sense of humor that made everyone feel comfortable."
Freeland suffered a stroke in 1999, but returned to the Flyer six months later, after his rehabilitation. He served as sports editor and director of the Flyer's Internet services until last summer when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Though his prognosis was poor, Freeland faced his future with courage and humor. He kept his friends updated with frequent e-mails detailing his fight and the occasional absurdities of modern medicine.
"He [kept his] dignity and humor all the way to the end," said his sister. "One of the last times he smiled was when he heard that Steve Spurrier had resigned."
In addition to his stories and sports columns in the Flyer, Freeland was a frequent commentator on local sports-talk radio shows. Dave Woloshin of WMC-790 remembers Freeland as conscientious but fair. "He was a kind soul on one hand," Woloshin said, "but when he took a stand his tongue could get tart. I'll miss him more than I can imagine. We had frequent lunches and our discussions would range from Calipari to politics to Zen. He was one of a kind."
"Dennis was very thorough and objective in his reporting," said sportscaster George Lapides of WREG-TV. "I know it really bothered him to be critical, as it does most of us, yet he knew it comes with the turf. Dennis never felt like he knew everything. He always felt there was more to learn. His reporting is going to be missed."
"The University of Memphis has lost a very good friend, but more important, I've lost a good friend and a true-blue Tiger," said former U of M basketball coach Larry Finch. "It will be strange not seeing Dennis Freeland on press row at Tiger games."
Freeland was proud of his work with young reporters. As editor, he was patient and usually soft-spoken but demanded stories be well-sourced, fair, and offer fresh perspectives.
"I consider myself extremely fortunate to have worked for Dennis as a Flyer writer in 1998 and 1999," said Eileen Loh-Harrist, now a staff writer for Gambit in New Orleans. "Dennis was a superb editor. He challenged his reporters to set the bar higher for every story, to be accurate and thorough, and to write simply and eloquently. He served as a mentor to young writers, helping them find their voice, a gift for which I will forever be thankful."
"At least eight or nine times over the last few days, I've had the impulse to get on the telephone to ring up Dennis or e-mail him concerning this or that subject -- a joke, a question, a bit of gossip, even, oddly enough, a matter or two concerning his own untimely passing," said Flyer senior editor Jackson Baker. "The only other death that affected me that way was my mother's in 1998. I kept wanting to get in touch with her, too.
"That says something about the nature of habit, but it says even more about the everlasting impact that certain personalities have. The internal messages keep writing themselves to the ones you truly love. And we all did love Dennis. Even when you disagreed with him, you never stopped knowing that he was, in every sense of the term, on the side of the angels. Now that is true in a literal sense. He'll be missed, but, in another sense he's everlasting."
Sports were an important part of Freeland's life to the end. In the fall, after his cancer had been diagnosed and his prognosis was grim, he and a friend visited AutoZone Park to discuss the possibility of using the park as a site for a memorial service. While his friend toured the park and talked with Bob Brame of the Redbirds, Dennis sat down on the top row of the second deck and looked contentedly out over the green field before him until they returned.
This will be fine, he told them.
-- Bruce VanWyngarden, John Branston