Robert L. "Bobby" Freeman Jr. is the 2006 Daily Press Citizen of the Year.
For generations the Freeman family has lived, worked and contributed to the community on the Peninsula. Both of Freeman's grandfathers worked at the shipyard, now Northrop Grumman Newport News, and his parents, Dorothy and Robert Freeman Sr., have promoted -- and continue to support -- innumerable local causes.
Much of Freeman's professional and business life and many of his civic interests have intertwined and overlapped with his father's, a retired certified public accountant. He credits his father with piling on responsibility early, trusting him to make decisions on his own. So though he followed his father into accounting -- "it was preordained" -- he then took a two-decade detour to pursue a successful law career, culminating in a five-year stint as managing partner of the Peninsula's largest law firm. In 1998, he stepped away from his law practice to help his father with his business interests.
Over the past few years, Freeman has used his solid base -- his family, his education, experience and community commitment -- as a springboard to launch several ventures that are all his own. In doing so, he has literally changed the city's landscape.
His transformation of the once-problematic former Eveready Battery site into Port Warwick, an original mixed-use development in the heart of midtown Newport News, has affected not only how its 1,500 residents live and what they expect from their community, its reach also has rippled into other parts of the city and beyond. Some label it "new urbanism" and "smart growth." Freeman sees it as helping to make Newport News a more dynamic place, one where people will choose to live.
In conjunction with Port Warwick, and as an outgrowth of his vision for it, Freeman has enhanced the entire city's image and its residents' quality of life through working tirelessly to bring monumental sculptures to public spaces. To ensure that the art enjoys a continued presence and will be enjoyed by future generations, he has helped establish two public, nonprofit organizations devoted to its display and preservation: the Port Warwick Foundation and the Newport News Public Art Foundation.
In combination, Freeman's development at Port Warwick and the public art programs he supports are changing how Newport News is viewed by residents and visitors alike. For his vision with these projects, and for his ongoing participation in the area's major educational and cultural organizations, Bobby Freeman Jr. is the Citizen of the Year. *
ABOUT THE ORGANIZATIONS
Much of Bobby Freeman Jr.'s work to promote the arts is conducted through these organizations:
Newport News Public Art Foundation: A public, nonprofit organization, active for the past five years, whose purpose is to transform the visual appearance of the city of Newport News through the selection and location of major pieces of sculpture throughout the city. To this end, the foundation (www.nnpaf.org) has a mission to:
* Promote interest in public art.
* Commission and support new projects that integrate art, architecture and urban planning.
* Preserve and protect existing works of public art for future generations.
Since 2000, eight monumental sculptures have been placed in the city, including the 20-foot stainless steel "Reinventions" by Robert Lorenson, in Oyster Point, and the red granite "Lanape Gate" by Harry Gordon, one of five at Port Warwick.
The NNPAF is currently working on commissions for five more sculptures in steel, marble and bronze, which will be placed at the airport, City Center, police headquarters, CNU and the Main Street Library.
Freeman is chair of the foundation, which has a board of directors drawn from civic leaders and artists; its director is Laurel Tsirimokos.
Port Warwick Foundation: A public, nonprofit organization (portwarwick.com/pwfoundation) started two years ago; its board consists of a certain percentage of Port Warwick homeowners and business owners, and a cross-section of people and businesses outside Port Warwick; it sponsors the annual fall Port Warwick Art & Sculpture Festival (pwartfest.org).
The festival brings in monumental sculpture -- last year's event showcased nine or 10 pieces -- for temporary display; this year's event, the weekend of Oct. 13-14, hopes to draw a dozen or more. These works will cycle out each year for new works 30 days before the festival. The eventual goal is to line Loftis Boulevard with monumental sculpture to create a gateway into the festival.
The foundation anticipates partnering with the city with the goal of developing the festival into a regional event by 2011 and changing the name to The Newport News Art & Sculpture Festival.
Freeman founded the organization; its executive director is Denise Olsen.
Port Warwick Conservancy: The Port Warwick property owners' organization became independent of the developer this year; it will continue to offer free public concerts each week in Styron Square throughout the summer. The concerts start up again on the third Wednesday in May.