Politics & Government

Late Rep. Roger Freeman remembered as an inspiring, smiling leader in Olympia

Friends and colleagues remembered state Rep. Roger Freeman on Saturday as a man who valued faith, family and inspiring others, even as he battled a deadly illness in his last days.

Saturday’s memorial service for Freeman featured music, dancing and much praise for the former Democratic lawmaker, whom friends described as a continually optimistic presence both at the Capitol and in his hometown of Federal Way.

Freeman, a public defense attorney who was elected to the Legislature in 2012, died of cancer last month at age 48. But even death couldn’t prevent his re-election six days later — something friends said showed how his spirit touched others.

The event honoring Freeman on Saturday at Our Savior’s Baptist Church in Federal Way was standing room only, with an audience that included state lawmakers, judges and community members.

“Roger — we will miss your contagious smile,” said messages displayed throughout the two-hour service.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Freeman’s characteristic smile will live on in Olympia, as will the example of collaboration he set for his colleagues in the Legislature. Freeman represented the 30th Legislative District, which includes Federal Way, Milton, Algona, Pacific and portions of Des Moines and Auburn.

Inslee said that Freeman worked hard as a lawmaker to stand up for those who weren’t necessarily represented in government — especially children.

“What he did as a legislator was what he did as a father, which is to give everything he could to the children of the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “Not just those who may have been born into wealth and privilege, but all children.”

Freeman left behind a wife, Sonya, and a young son and daughter.

The former Federal Way City Council member was active in his church, serving as a prayer director at Christ the King Bible Fellowship in Federal Way.

André Sims, the pastor at Christ the King, said Freeman often did pro bono legal work for church members, helping them with traffic tickets and other issues.

As a defense attorney, Freeman specialized in defending parents who were trying to keep custody of their children after their removal by social workers. In the Legislature, he sponsored successful legislation to help parents with disabilities keep their children, as well as to fill a gap in medical insurance coverage for injured firefighters and police officers.

Colleagues said Freeman was devoted to his clients, his family and his faith.

In Olympia, he was known for sharing that faith — and a little fun — with his colleagues at the Capitol. Freeman decided one year that the Legislature should honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. not just with a proclamation, but in song, recalled state Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle.

Pettigrew said he doubted that all 147 members of the Legislature — of which he and Freeman were the only two black lawmakers at the time — would pull off a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

But Freeman, Pettigrew said, “had a believing heart.”

“He believed that we were going to do it, that we were going to teach those people how to sing that song. And you know what? We did it,” Pettigrew said. “He believed in us that day. He believed in his family, he believed in his community, he believed in the power of God.”

Democrats will nominate candidates to fill Freeman’s seat in the state House on Dec. 1.