Chilliwack Progress tips its hat to Robert Freeman

IN MEMORY: The Chilliwack Progress remembers one of its own

Robert Freeman, former reporter for the Chilliwack Progress. (Progress file photo)

He would really hate all this hullabaloo.

Our dear friend and retired colleague Robert Freeman died in August, and if there was one thing the devoted newspaperman knew it was to keep yourself out of the story. He reminded us all of this, from his long-time desk here at The Progress. He also knew the cardinal rule of not becoming the story. So, he would doubly hate the social media posts from all of us about how we will all miss him and his curmugdeonly-yet-sincere ways.

And I think he would hate us dredging up memories of his newspaper life — the one he left behind upon retirement. But we can’t help ourselves. When Freeman retired in January 2013, he left a hole in this newsroom that could never be filled.

Those who worked with him can still drum up the image of him circling in his work space. Around and around he’d walk, head down, working through a tough lead, organizing facts in his sharp and busy mind, occasionally stopping and lifting his head with an answer, or a question for one of us. If it was a good enough revelation, he’d grab his chair and type away madly.

And we knew we’d be getting a great news story for the next paper.

But he would also love to reminisce. What many readers may not realize is that even though he was living the life of his dreams with the love of his life in Ontario, Freeman was still very much a part of The Progress. He sent regular dispatches after reading controversial stories, congratulating reporters for their work, and reminding us that “sticking to the facts” will always win the day.

He reminded us of Chilliwack’s past political woes, and genuinely wanted to see stories followed through.

He was a solid and trusted reporter, and worked in journalism in the time before social media. In those days, politicians and pundits would walk into the newsroom as welcome guests. We had waiting chairs for these visitors because they were so frequent — and more often than not they were there for Freeman.

One of those frequent guests was John Les, who as mayor had a close working connection to the newsroom, and specifically to Freeman.

“Very saddened to learn of Robert’s passing,” Les wrote on Facebook. “He was a great journalist, and a good friend. Given our roles in life, our paths crossed often. I always enjoyed our interactions. He was very professional, yet at the same time very human with a warm and engaging spirit. I’d always intended to visit with him in Ontario. I know we would have had a great time catching up.”

While he bombed around in his blue Jeep, with his plaid shirts and puffy vests, it may be hard to imagine Freeman as a poetic type. But he had been to Woodstock, recited poetry, and composed lovely, long emails to colleagues across the province.

Just in February he wrote to me saying the “news hunger” never goes away, but also advised all of us to ‘just wait until the first deadline passes with nary a ripple in your cosmos!”

I only responded with a short “ha!” I assumed there would be so many more conversations. We all wish we had more with him.

Knowing you was swell.

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