Sudden death of Prof. Freeman pains campus family


John C. Freeman, a beloved Detroit Mercy English professor, died at age 70, less than two weeks before the start of classes.

Mr. Freeman died suddenly Jan. 7 surrounded by his family.

He spent his last days with his daughter, Emily Freeman, eating pizza and playing pool.

He beat her two out of three games. He was very competitive in that way, she noted.

John Freeman gained his curiosity for literature growing up in rural Oklahoma at an early age, his daughter said.

He would take his little red wagon to the library to pile it with books to take home to read.

Described as an absent-minded professor curious about the world around him, Freeman was a loving husband to Margaret and a father of two Detroit Mercy alumni, Emily and John, who followed in his footsteps teaching English literature at the collegiate level.

The things he admired most about the university were the Jesuit traditions, the social justice components of the Catholic faith and the small community of people, said his daughter.

“Calihan Hall was certainly one of my dad's favorite places to be,” said Emily Freeman.

They often joked that they didn't have anything to talk about if it wasn't basketball season, she said.

“I hope we all go out into the world and treat people with the kind of kindness that my dad always had,” said Freeman.

Freeman’s presence on campus will be missed by those he impacted over his 33-year career at the university.

Beyond his devotion to the English department, Freeman had a passion for helping student-athletes.

Detroit Mercy student Micah Carey met Freeman during her freshman year while taking academic writing.

Carey is on the women’s track-and-field team.

She had his class after practice, and Freeman would ask her about their practices, meets and competitions.

She described Freeman as understanding, witty, funny and intelligent.

“He was honestly an awesome professor,” said Carey.

Freeman never failed to keep his students engaged and intrigued during class discussions, she said.

Freeman’s teaching expanded her way of thinking and encouraged her to conduct conversations about English literature, she said.

“He showed me that class didn’t have to be boring and that learning could be very fun, exciting and fulfilling,” said Carey.

Nicholas Rombes was a colleague and a dear friend of Freeman.

Rombes began teaching English at Detroit Mercy in 1995.

Freeman was one of the first people he met.

They even shared office space for two years.

“He took me under his wing,” said Rombes.

He said that Freeman’s teaching style influenced his own approach.

“He was one of the funniest people I knew,” said Rombes.

Freeman was known for his love of limericks.

He could make up a limerick on the spot even during tough times.

Rombes recalled a moment of tension during a department meeting in which Freeman shifted the energy of the room by creating a limerick.

“The way he diffused the tension in that meeting spoke to his character as a peacemaker,” said Rombes.

Rosemary Weatherston has been an English professor at the university since 2000.

“He was always on the cutting edge in the type of work he was doing. He would combine work from different centuries and genres in fresh innovating ways,” said Weatherston.

According to colleagues, Freeman was the glue that held the English department together.

“It is so difficult to think about the department without him in it. His office was next door to mine, and it's going to be difficult to imagine the department without him,” said Weatherston.

When news of Freeman’s passing spread online, many former students and colleagues took to Facebook to share fond memories of him.

In the words of his daughter Emily, Freeman leaves a legacy that encourages people to get to know the ones around them and to make sure everyone in the room feels valued.