Dr. David “Joe“ Freeman, MD, FACP, FACC
Our loving father died at home surrounded by his family on June 17th at age 95 after a battle with ureteral epithelial carcinoma which was highly malignant with lung and liver metastasis. This battle slowed him down but never extinguished his sharp mind and love of planning for the future.
Joe was born to Dr. Joseph Mervin and his wife Gladys Regnier Freeman on April 16, 1925. He will be welcomed to his spiritual life by his parents, his two older sisters Jean Freeman and Eleanor Freeman Johnson as well his grandson Sean David Tange, who died at the age of 4.
Joe grew up on the east side of Wausau kitty corner from Mary Clare Collins who has been his wife since he finished over 30 months of active duty in the army Air Force where he was a top pilot, sharp shooter and skilled in radio-radar mechanics. They married August 21, 1947, a very hot day, but dad wore his only good wool suit to honor his bride. Joe remained in the reserves reaching the designation of first lieutenant while learning skills like setting up emergency hospitals and preparing for catastrophic events.
After he finished medical school at UW Madison, he joined our grandfather initially before deciding to specialize in Internal Medicine and then Cardiology. At one point in Joe’s life, he was debating between being a doctor, an architect, or a writer. He spent several weeks in Tallahassee West learning design techniques under the tutelage of Frank Lloyd Wright. When the Freeman Medical Group became the Wausau Medical Center, Joe used his knowledge to help design the current building. He also had a short story called The Deer Hunter published in Reader’s Digest.
All his life, Joe was a far sighted innovator starting up the second Cardiac Care Unit and Cath lab in Wisconsin after Madison at South hospital in 1967. The year before, he worked with Mike Mucherheieie in sending EKGs and later x-rays for the first time over phone lines. In 1970, Dr. Al Molinaro and Joe recruited the excellent vascular surgeon Sid Mirosienie to round out the level of services in Wausau. The first by-pass was done at South Hospital on a local prominent businessman. Both Dr. Mirosienie and Joe had separate laser labs. In 1977, the cardiac program started to do complicated valves when Dr. Julio Davila was recruited to Wausau by Dr. Elliot Drake, the executive director of cardiology at the Heart Institute and our father. Joe later developed a revolutionary technique for cardiac catheterizations later supplanted by the development of ultrasound.
Joe’s oldest daughter Mary Jo and he were fortunate enough to practice together for his last 10 years along with Dr. Davila and Dr. Todd Gammill during which time he was the only cardiologist to do renal artery stents. He ultimately retired at age 70 but continued to read medical journals and stay current until his 90s.
Besides excellence in medicine and devotion to teaching, Joe was passionate about improving the Wausau area and with his wife, Mary Clare, conceived of the idea for the Arts Block, the Downtown Square, and gave generously to UW Madison and UW Marathon among other organizations. Joe and Mary Clare also enjoyed traveling together and embarked on many journeys around the world with University of Wisconsin alumni.
Joe grew up learning to hunt and fish in natural surroundings and never lost his love of the same. This background was part of both of our parents’ dedication to conservation inspiring them to start the North Central Conservancy Trust with Gary Tesch and their close friend Bob Greenheck.
Joe cherished his large family and spent many hours with his children Mary Jo Freeman (David Tange), Linda Grilley (Ron), Tim Freeman (Debbie), Gregory Freeman (Carol) and M. Sean Freeman (Jewel). He delighted in seeing his 15 grandchildren and many of his 13 great grandchildren in his final days. As was typical of Joe, his main concern throughout was that Mary Clare know he will always be with her in spirit.
In light of the coronavirus the funeral service for Joe will be restricted to immediate family. We all give thanks to the physicians from Aspirus and the Hospice service for their excellent care. In Lieu of flowers, please send donations to the DJ and Mary Clare Freeman Fund at the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin.
There’s an old song by Ricky Nelson who crooned “Now There Was A Man“ and that sums up our father. He will be sorely missed by so many people and was truly a pioneer in our community!
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