It is with deep sadness that I write to inform you that a great member of the Wesleyan family, Houghton “Buck” Freeman ’43, died this week in Stowe, Vermont, at the age of 89.
Buck was the son of Mary Houghton and Mansfield Freeman ’16, a distinguished scholar of Chinese philosophy and a co-founder of the international insurance firm that became known as American International Group. Buck grew up in China and acquired fluency in Mandarin. He interrupted his studies at Wesleyan to serve in the Navy during World War II and provided intelligence reports from southern China behind Japanese lines. After the war, he became the first Wesleyan student to earn a degree in Japanese. He captained the 1946 Wesleyan soccer team in a season that had only one loss (against Yale), which nearly equaled the record of Wesleyan’s undefeated team on which he had starred in 1940. In 1947 he joined AIG, where he spent the rest of his career, rising to the top levels of company leadership.
Buck, his wife Doreen Hon’03, and their son Graeme Freeman ’77 established the Freeman Foundation in 1993 after the death of Mansfield Freeman, who had contributed generously to Wesleyan’s East Asian Studies Program. The family and the Foundation continued to support the university generously. Buck and Doreen’s $5 million gift at the end of the Campaign for Liberal Learning in the 1980s was the largest single gift to that campaign, and it jump-started construction of Bacon Field House and the new pool in the Freeman Athletic Center—a project that reflected Buck’s enthusiasm for competitive athletics and fitness.
The Freeman Foundation’s landmark contribution to Wesleyan is the Freeman Asian Scholars Program. Begun in 1995, this program has provided full scholarships at Wesleyan for more than 300 talented students from Asia. The Freemans’ objective is to promote cross-cultural understanding between the United States and the countries of East Asia. Buck especially valued the affirmative culture of Wesleyan that provided a supportive context for Asian students far from home. By any measure, the Freeman Scholars Program has had a profound effect on Wesleyan, and on the many Freeman scholars who care deeply about the future of their own countries.
Buck served as a Wesleyan Trustee from 1982 to 1991, and Wesleyan awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1993. Through personal gifts and the Freeman Foundation, Buck is the largest donor in Wesleyan’s history. He showed his affection in small ways, too. When his offices were in New York City, he would sneak up to Middletown for key soccer games. On Commencement Weekend, one of his great pleasures was to attend the Phi Beta Kappa initiation of “his” Scholars. Until the last two years, he and Doreen regularly joined a fall dinner to welcome new Scholars, encourage advanced students and reconnect with alumni. On his many travels Buck enjoyed meeting with Freeman alumni and interviewing potential new students.
In recent days I have heard from former Wesleyan presidents and trustees, who have spoken of Buck’s modesty, his devotion to alma mater, and his deeply moral character. They also remembered his wry sense of humor, the twinkle in his eye when he heard about the latest news concerning the students he and Doreen considered family.
The Freemans will be gathering presently for a private ceremony. Some months from now they will plan a more public memorial, and we will share information about that when we have it. Next week we will post to the Web more information about Buck, and announce a time when we can gather on campus to acknowledge his extraordinary life.
Our hearts go out to his entire family, to his daughter Linda, and to his wife Doreen and his son Graeme, both of whom I have had the privilege of getting to know over the last few years. We have lost a devoted friend and mentor, but Buck Freeman has left an enduring legacy at Wesleyan and around the world. We will cherish his memory.