Dennis Freeland, who was the editor of the Flyer for many years and continued to write articles for the paper until fairly recently, was only 45 when he died, leaving behind a devoted family, numerous friends and admirers, and the legacy of his life and work.
Dennis was bashful about being photographed. He should not have been. His famous smile beamed straight through from his heart to yours. Anybody who ever heard Dennis laugh was ennobled. Anybody who ever read Dennis -- who wrote wonderful sports columns during all the years he served as Flyer editor -- was privileged. Anybody who knew him was lucky. Anybody who was affected by his presence in the world -- which is almost everybody, whether they knew it or not -- was blessed.
Dennis inspired loyalty. He also inspired the best effort in those working for him, and he was personally tireless in setting an example for others, working well beyond the perimeters of the nine-to-five schedule. His weekly sports column was as reliable and readable and illuminating a source of information as could be imagined, and his frequent cover stories on a wide variety of subjects were state-of-the-art -- brimming with insight and humor and always steady of purpose.
After returning to work from an illness which in 1999 was diagnosed as a stroke, he would tell you that the act of writing had become more difficult, but the results were always superb -- right up to the point last year when his vision began to ebb, a fact which led, ultimately, to the diagnosis of his tumor and which forced his retirement.
In an e-mail to his friends after his death, Dennis' sister Evonne Williams wrote: "He wanted a joyous send off. Nothing sad or depressing. Dennis didn't want the tears; he wanted smiles and laughs as we remember who he was and what he meant to each of us. P.S. Just as he had wanted to, he did this with dignity and humor all the way to the end. One of the last times he smiled was when he heard that Steve Spurrier had resigned. Classic Dennis!"
As Dennis' vision continued to fail in his last months, he kept on writing and e-mailing as long as he could -- witty, generous, brave messages that always managed to be informative about his own condition and about things in general. To do so, he cranked up his font size on his computer so that the letters were large enough for him to see. They appeared poster-size to those of us on the receiving end. This was both practical for him and symbolically appropriate for the rest of us, for he was courage writ large. He was the guiding force of this newspaper for years, and he continues to be.