TRIBUTE TO E.J. FREEMAN BY HEADMASTER R.W. POWELL, SHERBORNE ABBEY, 26TH FEBRUARY, 1964
To anyone from Sherborne School, Edward John Freeman was always E.J. or Ted, and I think I knew him well enough to hope that he would like now to be referred to informally.
There must be many here today who knew E.J. long before I came to Sherborne, and who, on the score of old acquaintance, might claim to speak with greater authority than I. But something more than old acquaintance is involved. Sherborne School flag flies at half-mast today, partly in respect to an old friend, but also to show that our whole community feels the loss of a man who, working and living with us for nearly 40 years, built something of himself into the fabric of our tradition. I speak, therefore, partly because in my time I came to know E.J. and to value his friendship, but more to represent all who are members of the School, Governors, Masters, and particularly thousands of old boys.
When E.J. retired in 1949, one who had worked with him for many years wrote: “What a lot the boys of today owe you”. That is still true in 1964. Only yesterday I watched boys playing games on the magnificent stretch of grounds which we call Carey’s. Not for the first time I thought with amazement and admiration of the skill and courage of E.J., who, without modern technical resources, planned and carried out the operation of levelling that piece of ground – 82,000 square yards of it. It is only fitting that a part of our fields has been named Freeman’s, for as long as boys enjoy their games there, so long will they owe their enjoyment to E.J., and so long will he be pleased.
But great as is our material debt to him, no less do we owe him for a personal quality which he brought into everything that he did. He was one of those men who devote themselves wholly to their job, and the people with whom they live. Time and money counted for nothing. During the early stage of his last illness, I went to see E.J. His mind was back in a happy past, busy with problems of turf and cricket. One could feel the intensity of interest and the devotion to his responsibilities still strong in him. Working happily, he communicated a happiness to other people – especially boys. Many still look back with deep gratitude to the sunny hours they spent with him, and wherever I have met O.S.’s, I have always been asked “How is E.J.?” And to hear him talk, as he did with great affection, of old times with the boys, it was easy to see why he was so loved. The kindly humanity which he gave so generously won him the response which is warmer than gratitude and respect. He taught boys to play cricket, and taught them well, because he loved the game and loved boys. But without realising it, by being the Ted Freeman that he was, he was a valuable part of their general education.
Naturally, I have talked much of the School, and I think that E.J. himself, in casting up his account, would have reckoned the School as a major item, for he often told me how much of his heart was in the place. But it would be doing him an injustice to think only of his connection with the School and not to mention his service in the 1914-18 war, his devotion to his family, his standing in the parish and the town, his worship in this Abbey, and his whole life of unpretentious loyalty to what is decent and good.
Sherborne flag flies at half-mast, and Shirburnians all over the world will be thinking with affection of E.J. But the qualities which so endeared him in the School won him respect and friendship everywhere, and there will be many people of many different kinds who will miss him. I doubt whether it ever entered his head to wonder what people would think of him, and I am sure his estimate of himself would have been very humble. He lived his life honestly and unassumingly, without thought of reputation or reward, and he would have been the last to claim recognition. But it was the sort of life which raises the quality of humanity, leaves many people somehow bettered, leaves them with something to remember. He did good, and the good will live after him. In this way he remains among us, and will continue, as he always was, to be an example and a help.