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Pine Bluff publisher Freeman dies at 94

Newspaper man’s life one of travels by Bill Bowden | May 4, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.

Across Arkansas, he was known as publisher of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Pine Bluff Commercial.

But Edmond Wroe Freeman III, who died Monday at the age of 94, lived a bit like a cross between Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac.

Freeman climbed mounts Whitney, Kilimanjaro and Fuji -- the most recent one at the age of 79. He went to bullfights in Mexico, Spain and France.

In the summer before the 11th grade, with their parents permission, Freeman and his buddy Carl Purnell set out on a hitchhiking journey to the Grand Canyon.

Their parents drove them up from Pine Bluff and put them out on the west side of Little Rock to catch a ride, Freeman said in a 2009 interview for the The David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, https://bit.ly/3teTeYV.

They hitchhiked to El Paso, Texas, then caught a freight train to Bisbee, Ariz., where they swam in the city water tower before jumping aboard the freight train as it began rolling out of town and a man chased them down the tracks.

Freeman and Purnell hitchhiked back thorough Los Angeles and Albuquerque, where a drenching rain disintegrated the glue holding Freeman's Army Navy Store suitcase together. They slept at YMCAs and once in an unlocked car on a used car lot in Artesia, N.M.

Freeman was born into a newspaper family at Pine Bluff on May 31, 1926.

After spending a year at The Citadel, he served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1947. Freeman did graduate work in philosophy at the University of Chicago. He married fellow graduate student June Biber in 1950.

He returned to Arkansas to work at the newspaper his family owned. Under his guidance, the Pine Bluff Commercial attracted many talented journalists, including Pat Owens, who won a Nieman Fellowship, and Paul Greenberg, who won a Pulitzer Prize.

Freeman served as the editor on those editorials that won the Pulitzer. Greenberg, who went to work for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 1992, died April 6 at age 84.

The Freeman family sold The Commercial to Donrey Media Group in 1986.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and WEHCO Newspapers Inc. acquired the Pine Bluff Commercial last year. The Commercial is now included as part of the Democrat-Gazette newspaper.

Among all those bullfights that Freeman saw, there was one that was no bull. It was a "brave cow, a female fighting animal" in the south of France, he said in the 2009 interview.

Kept loosely tethered, the cow is annoyed until it charges a man, who must leap into the air or to one side to avoid it, said Freeman.

"That's wonderful to see for a half hour," he said. "I mean, it's just spectacular. But after that, it begins to be boring as can be."

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