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Office of the President Emeritus
Hinman Box 6166
Hanover, NH 03755
Phone: (603) 646-0016
Fax: (603) 646-0015
Email: james.wright@dartmouth.edu

Remarks in Memory of James O. Freedman, President Emeritus of the College

Congregation Kehillath Israel, Brookline, Massachusetts

March 23, 2006

Sheba, Deborah, and Jared - we share your loss and mourn with you.  Susan and I offer our deepest condolences to you and to all of your family.  The lives of each of us in this room are diminished by the loss of a friend - but we remember warmly how much we each were enriched by knowing Jim Freedman as a friend.  That warmth can never be lost. 

A few years ago, Jim Freedman said to a Boston Globe interviewer that his great regret was that due to his illness, his grandchildren would not know him.  Isaac, Jacob, Sasha, and Noah:  we resolve you will know him.  Let me record for you"¦.

Susan and I have known Jim and Sheba Freedman for 19 years - good and full years, but also years that tested him regularly.  The cruel accumulation of physical assaults upon his body never diminished his spirit or his mind.  He met the repeated challenges with grace and with courage and did so in ways that inspired all who were privileged to be in his good company.

James O. Freedman was a man of many parts - husband, father, and grandfather, a son of New Hampshire, law professor, university president, academic spokesman and leader, lover of books, public intellectual, sports enthusiast, a special friend who was so proud of his Jewish heritage. Each of these he embraced to the fullest.  He excelled in living a good and generous life, always comfortable with who he was.

When I first met him in 1987 what stood out was his wisdom, the power of his intellect and the range of his learning.  He read so widely.  He was curious to know more about many things.  And he came to know more.  But knowing things was not enough - reflecting upon them, learning from them, relating them to life's problems and questions, sharing the wisdom derived from this process, these things were the purpose of education at its best and they shaped the intellectual meaning of his life.  He was always a teacher, always patient and wise. 

As Dartmouth's fifteenth president, he focused consistently on raising even more the intellectual sights and expectations of the College.  He encouraged the creation of new academic programs, affirmed and strengthened the College's commitment to diversity, oversaw major construction projects, and completed a successful capital campaign. 

His passion for learning, for liberal learning, for discovery, these things always shaped his administration. Dartmouth's distinguished reputation today stands as a tribute to his vision.

We learned from his ideas, from his passionate defense of the liberal arts, from his unflinching support of academic freedom. He willingly fought for the ideas he believed in, and he challenged us to strive for the best. He did not flinch from controversy nor did he step back from challenge. 

I had the good fortune to serve as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and as Provost with Jim, and, when he took a sabbatical in 1995, as acting president.  Jim was the sort of colleague you could spend hours with talking over the day-to-day issues of campus and of the world. He loved to talk about books, about the day's news, about baseball, and he had an ear finely tuned to the academic rumor network!  Many sought his advice and counsel. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a laugh that would lighten the heaviest of subjects. We spent many hours together - hours that I will never forget and will always cherish.

If his wisdom and intellect shaped his approach to life, for the last dozen years his courage marked his life and together these qualities made a strong teacher the stronger and made his great passion for liberal learning the greater.  As he said at Dartmouth's 1994 commencement, just completing his chemotherapy, his first chemotherapy, "although liberal education isn't perfect, it is the best preparation there is for life and its exigencies. It does enable us to make sense of the events that either break over us, like a wave, or quietly envelop us before we know it, like a drifting fog."

At that time none could have imagined that our friend would have so many subsequent opportunities to test this preparation; none of us could have handled these repeated assaults with so much dignity and such understated courage.

The Anti-Defamation League recognized him twice, with their William O. Douglas First Amendment Freedom Award and with the David Rose Civil Rights Award.  The testimonials that led to these tributes said so much about a teacher who taught and who lived the value of liberal learning in making the world the better.

A few years ago we talked about his dealing with what then must have been the fifth or sixth recurrence of his cancer.  I asked him about his spirits and he acknowledged that sometimes he felt terribly depressed and discouraged.  But he said that he coped with these feelings by reminding himself that if in 1994 someone could have promised him ten more years, time to finish two books, to meet and to hold his grandchildren, Isaac, Jacob, Sasha, and Noah, to enjoy old friends and to make new ones, he would have felt blessed.  But, he observed, those ten years had gone quickly, too quickly, so that perhaps with ten more years he would feel doubly blessed!

He lived to see the Red Sox win the World Series. And many here will know his passion for this team. He could recite details from Red Sox history that would challenge the best historians and he loved speculating on trades or moves.  He was quite capable of second guessing managers - and he laughed when I told him that even in this world of specialization the two things that most Americans thought they could do better than the person doing the job was manage a baseball team and run a college or university.

Along with his native intellect, his exceptional wisdom, his demonstrated courage, there was another defining quality, increasingly important to Jim - he was Jewish.  I recall a conversation a few years ago when I said to him that while of course I did not know him before 1987, I thought that his Jewish heritage and values had become even more powerful forces in his life over the last ten or fifteen years.  He agreed that this was true, and it was something from which he took great comfort. 

He grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, the son of a high school teacher and an accountant, and a member of a small Jewish community. As a child he developed his passion for ideas, and books, and the life of the mind and he understood early that so much of identity was tied to his being rooted in this Jewish community.

Jim once wrote, "Growing up "¦ I often wondered "¦ what it meant to be a Jew. I gradually came to understand that a devotion to learning was at the center of Jewish identity. My parents were both readers. Our house abounded with books and conversations about ideas. And so, as I matured, my search for my most authentic self was ineluctably linked to my identity as an intellectual, and that identity was inextricably linked to my sense of myself as a Jew."

In his distinguished service for the American Jewish Committee, recognized by them with their National Distinguished Leadership Award, that secular sense of self became a profound sense of responsibility, a passion to protect and to enhance Jewish life. 

When Susan and I last visited Jim a month ago at Massachusetts General Hospital, he was as eager as always to know news and to share views of the world.  Pitchers and catchers had reported but we all recognized that he might not see another opening day. 

He was nonetheless so pleased when he told us that Princeton University Press was publishing the book that he had been working on for the last several years, one that would provide reflections on his family, his community, and his education.  And through the bandages and patches and tubes he positively beamed when he said that he was dedicating the book to Sheba.  Left unsaid, but surely recognized by those in that room - and all in this temple today - is the reciprocity of this dedication, a recognition by Jim of how Sheba Freedman has dedicated so much of her life to protecting the quality of his life.  Sheba, you inspire us all.

Eudora Welty, one of Jim Freedman's favorite writers, once wrote, "Integrity can be neither lost nor concealed nor faked nor quenched nor artificially come by nor outlived, nor, I believe, in the long run, denied."

Here we attest and shout out that Jim Freedman was truly a man of integrity. Everything he did, he did truthfully and with integrity. Quietly, he encouraged us to do the same. It is with sadness, for sure, that I stand here today. But it is also with deep pride and affection for all that Jim Freedman accomplished and meant to us.

In the 2003 Globe interview in which he reflected upon his mortality, Jim Freedman hoped that his grandchildren would know of him that "I thought it was valuable to try to nurture some values to help people live better."  Isaac, Jacob, Sasha, and Noah, your grandfather did that.  And those lessons endure. 

He liked the line from The Education of Henry Adams,  "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Today we honor a man whose ideas can have no end and whose values must have no end - and we celebrate our good fortune in having known him.

Last Updated: 8/21/08