Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year.
W. J. Freeman was a Bartlett alderman longer than anyone else in Bartlett history, serving for 32 years.
He was sworn in Jan. 1, 1957, when Bartlett was a small town of 500 people, and he retired in 1992 at the age of 85 with the city having a population of 28,000.
He helped guide the city through the some exciting and turbulent times. He retired as alderman but took on the part-time job of city treasurer and visited City Hall often. When he retired, Mayor Ken Fulmar said, “He was an influential part of this city and was a great statesman who will be missed.” W. J. Freeman Park was named in his honor.
William Joseph Freeman (Jody) was born in Bartlett in 1907 at 3101 Sycamore View Road. His parents were William Allen Freeman and Joe Becker Smith Freeman. His mother died early and he was raised by his paternal grandparents from age 12. Growing up he went to Bartlett School and was Bartlett’s paper boy. His job was to meet the train from Memphis every day at 6:20 p.m., roll the papers and then throw them. He delivered them on horseback and said the horse knew the route as well as he did. He also worked at Tatum’s grocery store and would help deliver 25- and 50-pound chunks of ice up and down the streets of town.
Twenty-one seniors graduated with Freeman in the Class of 1925. He said he might have been a great football star, but the new school did not have a team until 1926. He continued his schooling at South-western at Memphis and Union University and was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity at Union. He responded to an ad for a job with Buckeye Cellulose, which started his career and continued with Proctor and Gamble and Ralston Purina. He retired in 1970 after 45 years.
He was a charter member of the Bartlett Lions Club, a member of the Masonic Temple and a member of Bartlett Baptist Church.
Jody and Mary Ann Blakely were married in 1935. She had moved to Bartlett when she was eight but considered herself a native. Her parents were Louis LeRoy Blakely and Mary Francis Dye Blakely, and they lived on Sycamore View Road. She attended Bartlett High School and loved sports, playing on the basketball team.
The Freemans had two daughters, JoAnn and Ginger, and as a mother Mrs. Freeman served in many capacities in the PTA. She was active in the Bartlett Garden Club and raised beautiful prize roses that she shared with friends and neighbors. As a member of Bartlett Baptist Church she taught Sunday School, sang in the choir and taught Vacation Bible School. Mrs. Freeman was widely known for her painting, especially her china painting, as well as hand-crocheted afghans and little dolls. Many young children were introduced to painting and crafts under her direction.
In an article in The Bartlett Express in 1982, the Freemans lovingly recalled a time when “everybody knew everybody else in Bartlett. There was more distance between houses, but less between people. It seems people were out, moving around, socializing more.”
They continued, “The church was the social center of the small community. Everybody met at church. We’d have dinner on the grounds on Sundays and good ol’ revivals in the summer. A tower behind the church held the bell that pealed an invitation to churchgoers.”
During the first four years of their marriage, Freeman traveled in his job, but when his wife became pregnant with their first child they came back home and build a house at 3114 Court Street, on the corner of Court Street and Blackwell.
There they raised their family, which expanded to include grandchildren and great grandchildren. They had been married for 53 years when Mrs. Freeman passed away in 1989. He Freeman passed away in 1999.
They are buried in Forest Hill East Cemetery. Both their daughters, JoAnn Freeman Jones and Ginger Freeman Holt, and several grandchildren live in Bartlett.