Richard W. Freer

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2005

Former Juneau resident Richard W. (Dick) Freer, 91, died Sept. 3, 2005, in Portland, Ore.

Freer, the oldest of four children, was born Oct. 7, 1913, in Middleport, N.Y., to Grant Blaine Freer and Mary Minerva (Wilcox) Freer. In May 1914, the family moved to Everett, Wash., and then to Yakima, Wash., where he graduated from high school in 1931.

After graduation, he picked apples in the Yakima Valley, attended the Yakima Business College, and worked at the Surety Finance Co. until enrolling at the University of Washington in 1935. In 1938 he, along with friend Burke Riley, decided to go to Alaska and "put together a stake." They obtained one-way passage on the trading boat Discoverer, sailing from the Ballard locks March 25, 1938, and reaching Anchorage, then a town of 3,000, on April 5.

Using the last of their funds, the pair took the train to Fairbanks where Freer found work as the assistant paymaster at the Fairbanks Exploration (FE) Company. On July 26, 1941, he married Roberta Rushmore.

The Freers left Fairbanks in 1943, and spent the war years in Seattle. In 1949, Burke Riley, who was working in Juneau as a special assistant to Gov. Ernest Gruening, advised him of a job opening, which Freer eventually accepted, as business manager at the territorial Department of Health.

Freer became the first territorial budget officer in 1955, a position created by the 1954-55 Legislature, then succeeded to the director of the Office of Management and Budget following statehood in 1959. He was appointed deputy commissioner of Administration by Gov. Egan in 1970, a position he held until retirement in 1977, including a short term as commissioner. He is credited with initiating modern, progressive budgeting and accounting systems, purchasing, property control, personnel and retirement programs essential to government operations. He was widely recognized for his diligence, hard work and a fair, even-handed approach, both to people and to problem-solving.

He lived in Juneau until 1986, when illness necessitated moving Roberta to Portland. He was a longtime and active member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. He was a Rotarian, exalted ruler of the Juneau Elks Lodge, president of the Alaska State Elks Association and was active in the Juneau-Douglas Little Theater, where he appeared in numerous productions.

He enjoyed fishing and hiking, and spent many hours on the water with his close friend, the late George Danner, until well into their 80s.

He was preceded in death by his son Michael in 1957 and his wife of 49 years, Roberta, in 1990.

He is survived by his sons and daughters-in-law, David and Paula of Bethesda, Md., grandchildren Justin and his wife Stephanie, Jared and Jordan and great-granddaughter Olivia; Peter and Sharon Gaiptman and granddaughter Becca of Juneau; and daughter, Cherry Murphy of Portland and grandchildren Brian and Scott.

A memorial service will be 3 p.m., Sept. 26, at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, with a reception following in McPhetres Hall.

Memorials to Freer should be made to the American Red Cross for relief efforts related to Hurricane Katrina.

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