Former Trustee Houghton “Buck” Freeman ’43, creator and benefactor of the Freeman Asian Scholars Program and founder of the Freeman Foundation, passed away this week in Stowe, Vermont at the age of 89. Freeman’s numerous contributions to the University, including a $5 million gift in the 1980s that funded construction of the Bacon Field House and the new pool in the Freeman Athletic Center, made him the largest donor in Wesleyan’s history.
“Our hearts go out to his entire family, and especially 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,” wrote President Michael Roth in an e-mail to the community. “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.”
Born in Shanghai to Mary Houghton and AIG co-founder Mansfield Freeman ’16, Buck Freeman was fluent in Mandarin and became the first Wesleyan student to earn a degree in Japanese. As a student, he played on the undefeated 1940 Wesleyan soccer team, and became captain of the 1946 team after serving in the Navy during World War II.
Even after joining AIG, Freeman remained an active member of the Wesleyan community.
“When his offices were in New York City, he would sneak up to Middletown for key soccer games,” Roth wrote. “On Commencement Weekend, one of his great pleasures was to attend the Phi Beta Kappa initiation of “his” Scholars. On his many travels Buck enjoyed meeting with Freeman alumni and interviewing potential new students.”
The Freeman Asian Scholars Program, which was established in 1995 through the Freeman Foundation, has provided full scholarships to more than 300 students from Asia. Classes graduating before 2013 have 22 scholars, while the class of 2013 and onward have 11 scholars.
“The Freemans’ objective is to promote cross-cultural understanding between the United States and the countries of East Asia,” Roth wrote. “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.”
With the exception of the past two years, Freeman regularly attended a fall dinner welcoming new Scholars and met with current students and alumni involved in the program. For many beneficiaries of the program, Freeman made an impression they will not soon forget.
“He’s practically the reason that any of the scholars are here,” said Mita Sugeng ’13, a Freeman scholar from Indonesia. “He let us dream, he made that a possibility for so many of us. He had the ability to see the good in everyone, and to encourage you to work on your potential to become a better person. He changed lives… and countries, when you think about it.”