Lois Freeman did not make it to the age of 100, as Lewis Donelson had before his death last year. Nor was she the publicly recognizable cutting-edge personality that Donelson had been for most of his passage through life.
But Lois Akers Freeman, who died week before last at the age of 96, had as direct and memorable an effect on those who knew her and on the Democratic Party, whose faithful servant she was, as Donelson, the GOP's grand old man, had on his fellow Republicans.
A transplant to Memphis from her native East Tennessee, she made a core contribution to the politics and civil life of Shelby County that was part of a continuum including her late husband Max Freeman, a lawyer who was an important behind-the-scenes presence in public affairs for many years, and her son John Freeman, an indispensable aide to numerous well-known Democrats — U.S. Representatives Harold Ford and Harold Ford Jr., and former Mayor AC Wharton, in particular.
Lois Freeman first achieved special notice in 1964, that year of epic change in Memphis' civil rights landscape, when she became an integral member of a biracial group of women who began, methodically and staunchly and effectively, the racial integration of the city's restaurants in Memphis, simply by eating together at a different establishment each Saturday.
She next turned her determination and skills to voter registration drives, locally and across the state line in Mississippi, focusing on minorities and women. Decades later, she continued to be certified as an official election observer by the Department of Justice.
As president of the Memphis Women's Political Caucus, Lois Freeman worked hard to get outstanding women to run for and serve in public office. The rolls of officialdom over the years, continuing to this day, contain a plethora of women, recruited by her, who have distinguished themselves in office.
Lois Freeman co-founded the Equal Employment Opportunity Council of Greater Memphis and the Public Issues Forum. She was a member of the Governor's Committee for the Handicapped, and she was well ahead of the curve in dealing with the issue of abused women, chairing the Abused Women's Services Committee in the early 1990s.
Children, too, were a special concern of hers, and at the time of her passing, she was still an active member of the board of Tennessee Mentorship, a group that worked with at-risk children of pre-school ages. And she was prominent with EdPAC, an organization that does watchdog services for public education and evaluates and endorses school board candidates.
But, for all her administrative roles of consequence, Lois Freeman was most conspicuous for the simple fact of being there in every aspect of events, helping set up for meetings beforehand, catering for them, participating in them, and using elbow grease to help clear out the premises later on. Few indeed were the Democratic and nonpartisan races that she did not play an active and crucial role in.
She epitomized the idea of leading by example, and, as much as anyone else in these parts, was the very model of an active citizen.
A memorial service will be held for her this coming Saturday, June 2nd, beginning at 3 p.m. at Serenity Funeral Home, 1638 Sycamore View Road.