In terms of ubiquity, Greg Freeman might've even bested Beatle Bob.
I never saw him dance, but I did see him emcee, read, moderate, speak, cheerlead, host...and prod. From Sunday morning talks at the Ethical Society in the 'burbs to weeknight meetings in his Skinker/DeBaliviere neighborhood to a daily gig hosting "St. Louis on the Air" on KWMU, Greg managed a rare combination: he was everywhere, but no one ever seemed to get tired of him. Never once did I hear, "Oh, it's Greg Freeman hosting it? Nah, never mind; I've heard all he has to say."
His appeal lay partly in his Everyman (albeit with a better command of the language) observations, particularly his newspaper columns that were based on the Big Stuff, the mundane and everything in between. He had the ability to succinctly and eloquently express the observations and inklings of many folks, on topics ranging from parenthood to air-conditioning to race.
Race. That last one seemed a particular calling for Greg, and a topic he addressed frequently. Though it's easy to dismiss discussions of race especially in the tension-fraught chasm of race in St. Louis; what else is there to say? he continued to come at the topic from different angles...and people listened. As a black man married to a white woman, as the parent of a biracial child, and as someone who lived essentially his whole life in this city, Greg used his first-person authority not in a didactic way, but rather to limn the daily experience of race, for blacks, whites and the other racial groups who call St. Louis home. Among his other lasting contributions to our town, Greg cofounded "Bridges Across Racial Polarization," an effort to get folks talking and forming relationships with people of other races, in ways large and small.
My overriding memory of Greg Freeman, though, will be this: he gracefully occupied a position of both power and accessibility that no one else of my acquaintance approaches. Every group or organization or citizen who ever tried to make a difference in St. Louis owes him a debt of gratitude, because Greg used his platform to broadcast your message our message to everyone who was listening. In several capacities in which I approached him (as a member and president of Metropolis St. Louis, as a neighbor protesting careless demolition along South Grand, and as the co-editor of this online magazine), I found him without fail willing to listen to story pitches, happy to give advice and, perhaps most importantly to do-gooder types who often toil away in obscurity, dedicated to using his voice to let all of St. Louis know what we were up to. He took the messages of many groups, gave them his own take and plopped them down on the breakfast table of Mr. and Ms. St. Louisan, who read his columns or heard his radio show and then knew something about what was going on.
When his physical ailments became widely known and then progressively more debilitating, Greg defied logic and became more visible. He wrote and spoke about organ donation, transplant science and lives transformed by the generosity of family or strangers. He accepted and completed speaking engagements right up until the time of his death.
Greg practiced an interesting form of radical behavior in this city: that is, he defied conventional wisdom and spoke out proudly about what's right with St. Louis. Never in a Pollyanna-ish way, and never without acknowledging the progress yet to be made, but always with an optimism grounded in reality. He believed what he said, and said what he believed. That's my definition of a life well lived.