In Memoriam: Robert Jack Freeman Jr. Champion of Water for Small Communities

March 20, 2019

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Robert (Bob) Jack Freeman Jr., member of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Small Communities Committee, died January 21. Photo courtesy of Sarah Freeman.

Robert (Bob) Jack Freeman Jr., member of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Small Communities Committee, died January 21. Photo courtesy of Sarah Freeman.

Robert (Bob) Jack Freeman Jr., member of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) and the Georgia Association of Water Professionals (GAWP) since 2006, died January 21 at the age of 71.

Freeman, a registered professional engineer and certified wastewater treatment operator, earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Mississippi State University (Starkville). He also had a master’s in business administration from Georgia State University (Atlanta).

Freeman worked as an environmental engineer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 for more than 47 years. After retiring, he became the founder and owner of Softpath Environmental Solutions LLC (Acworth, Ga.).

Bob Freeman spent 47 years working as an environmental engineer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4. Photo courtesy of Sarah Freeman.

Bob Freeman spent 47 years working as an environmental engineer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4. Photo courtesy of Sarah Freeman.

Advocating for small and disadvantaged communities

“Bob was definitely a champion for small systems,” said Albert Rubin, professor emeritus at North Carolina State University (Raleigh). “His work addressed small, onsite wastewater systems and effective systems for small and disadvantaged communities.”

Freeman advocated for installing onsite or natural systems in small communities. He also eagerly participated in the review and editing processes for onsite wastewater system manuals and decentralized system management guides, Rubin said.

Bob Freeman (center) stands with his colleagues at EPA. Photo courtesy of Brendan Held, EPA.

Bob Freeman (center) stands with his colleagues at EPA. Photo courtesy of Brendan Held, EPA.

“Bob never lost his roots in the community,” Rubin said. He served as an “effective buffer” between EPA and small communities during issues related to compliance. “He never lost sight of the greater good that could be achieved through incremental achievement of goals,” he said.

Freeman served as a member of the WEF Small Community Committee from 2008 to 2012. Rubin remembers him as a “loyal participant” who continually participated in the group’s meetings and events.  In addition to presenting several papers at the annual WEF technical exhibition and conference (WEFTEC), his research was published in various journals. He also served on The Water Research Foundation (Denver) Decentralized Research Advisory Council to help determine research priorities on the topic and support related projects.

Bob Freeman was an active proponent for installing the right wastewater treatment systems in small communities and a proponent for the environment. Photo courtesy of Sarah Freeman.

Bob Freeman was an active proponent for installing the right wastewater treatment systems in small communities and a proponent for the environment. Photo courtesy of Sarah Freeman.

Ernest Earn, senior project manager with the Cobb County Water System (Marietta, Ga.), remembers seeing Freeman behind EPA booths at both state and national WEF events. Freeman was “very involved” with GAWP, serving as a member of its Small Systems Committee and eventually becoming a GAWP Guru, a designation awarded to those who have been a part of the WEF Member Association for 25 years or more, Earn said.

“Bob was always available if you needed any form of assistance,” Earn said. “He was very passionate on small, decentralized systems and energy efficiency.”

Bob Freeman was known a colleague who could be relied on as a professional resource in the water sector. Photo courtesy of Sarah Freeman.

Bob Freeman was known a colleague who could be relied on as a professional resource in the water sector. Photo courtesy of Sarah Freeman.

Joyce Hudson worked with Freeman on EPA’s Decentralized Wastewater Treatment program. He could be counted on to contribute national-level policy recommendations and was a wonderful representative for EPA Region 4, she said.

“Bob Freeman was an extraordinary person, coworker, and protector of the environment. Bob was the person to call when I needed an answer to a tough question or needed to run a strategy by someone respected for their judgement and advice,” Hudson said. “He was a wealth of information and experience with both small systems and onsite systems.”

“He was also a great friend,” Hudson said.

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

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