WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. – As friends, family and a county mourn the loss of one of its leaders, many are remembering the stalwart judge fondly.
Lawrence County Judge Dale Freeman passed away Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m., his wife informed NEA Report. This tragic news came a month after the judge rolled his truck in a horrific crash. The accident broke his neck, required him to be extricated from the vehicle and left him in critical condition.
Born March 14, 1941, Freeman was as tough as they come. He told an NEA Reporter he was an athlete growing up, opting to avoid unhealthy habits in favor of his health. However, as tough as he was, Freeman fought his most difficult battle by recovering from the accident. To many, his condition seemed to be on the mend. There was discussion of him being moved to an area hospital from Little Rock and he was even out of his bed, sitting up in chairs and talking through his tracheotomy.
It would be only a temporary improvement.
While staff prepared to take Freeman to rehab Saturday afternoon, they found him in his room with no more fight left for this world. The tough county judge had passed away but not before a significant event which wife, Mary Freeman, cherished and held as comfort in her time of grieving.
She told NEA Report her husband, for the first time in his life, had been saved by faith in Jesus Christ and had become a Christian. He had begun to pray, regularly, for the first time ever, she said.
Many others remembered the judge for his service and genuine concern for the county. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Director Fran Cavenaugh remembered him with fondness.
“Judge Freeman will be remembered for many things but one I think Dale would like everyone to remember was his love for Lawrence County,” Cavenaugh said. “The more I worked with Dale and the more I got to know him, the more I got to see his love for our county and his desire to see it prosper and grow. I will remember him for many reasons but his love of his community will always be what I remember the most.”
State Representative James Ratliff said in a Facebook post, ” Dale and his family have been good friends with our family. Dale will be missed.” He also offered prayers for the family.
Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp not only lost a fellow public servant with whom he worked on many projects – he also lost a close friend.
“Dale Freeman had become an extremely close friend of mine and anyway you look at him, he came across as brass and tough on the outside, but his heart was for Lawrence County,” Snapp said. “He wasn’t one to give in to a lot of compromise but if you showed him how it would benefit the county, he was onboard 100 percent. I never found anyone easier to work with and I can’t imagine anyone being anymore beneficial for the county. Some of the changes and progress made in the area would not be possible without the cooperation of the late Dale Freeman.”
Freeman was an alumni of Williams Baptist College, playing basketball there. WBC Vice-President for Institutional Advancement, Brett Cooper, described Freeman as someone eager to assist and said WBC is honored to host his services.
“Any conversation we had with Judge Freeman, he would always ask, ‘Is there anything I can do to help?'” Cooper said. “I think Dale truly loved that part of being county judge, being able to help people.”
As many pointed out, the judge had a passion for serving the county. Freeman made a post on March 1 on his personal Facebook wall, after being reelected. The post was visible to friends only but had meaning for the entire county.
“I would like to sincerely thank my supporters for re-electing me County Judge for Lawrence County for another two years,” Freeman wrote in March. “I am humbled by your confidence and I will continue to plunge forward for progress for all of Lawrence County. Thank you again for all the support shown to me during this election. God Bless each and everyone of you. I would also like to thank my family and especially my wife Mary for standing by me and encouraging me every step of the way. God bless Lawrence County.”
Services have been set for Freeman. Visitation will be held Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Williams Baptist College Chapel, while the funeral will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m., at the same location.
The family has set up a page at Bryan Funeral Home’s website to honor the judge.