Once upon a time, the founders of the Independent conceived the publication as a statewide, subscriber-based newsmagazine. To that end, we sent a small squad of people to North Carolina's cities to sell subscriptions at universities and political gatherings and coffee houses. We had about 3,000 subscribers at one time--most of them right here in the Triangle--before we understood that only free circulation of the paper could bring us instant mass readership and a reasonable shot at financial success.
We had one problem with the subscriptions we'd sold: We couldn't afford to pay a mailing house to send them out.
Enter Elizabeth Freeman. She arrived in Durham in the early 1980s after a career as a New Jersey schoolteacher and counselor, after her stint in the Women's Army Corps during World War II, after her retirement on a farm in Oregon. She came to our doorstep strong of body, mind and spirit, and she brought with her a gang of volunteers from the Older Women's League (OWL) to mail out the Independent's every single issue for many, many years.
Elizabeth and her cadre faithfully labeled and bundled the newspapers for the post office, but they did much more. The weekly influx of these women was a special time at the Independent, a time when staff gathered to watch and help, to debrief the last issue with Elizabeth and her wise sisters, to analyze Reagan's most recent budget cuts or to wonder and rage at the deadly whirlwind of the AIDS epidemic that took the life of Elizabeth's beloved nephew, Carl Wittman, with whom she came to Durham in the first place.
Over the years, Elizabeth personalized the labels she glued to the newspapers. She drew a red-ink heart on hundreds of labels every issue--the labels of papers going to her many friends or people whom she admired. Once she drew the first hearts, she couldn't stop. Her friends began to look for them and lived in disappointment without them.
In Durham, Elizabeth continued to publish older women's writings through her Crone's Own Press. She co-founded a housing co-op for women on Watts Street, became an early and active supporter of the Self-Help Credit Union, and demonstrated for peace, gay rights and the environment.
In her last years, Elizabeth lived with Barb Culbertson, Mab Segrest and their daughter, Annie, before moving to Carolina House in Chapel Hill. She was particularly cared for and beloved by Allan Troxler, her much younger and deeply loyal friend. Allan was her original contact with the Independent, for he himself designed our first issue in 1983, giving us our first logo, our typefaces, our "look." Each Halloween for the past five years, Allan brought Elizabeth to sit on my front porch and watch the witches, princesses and Darth Vaders stream in for their treats. She was, as ever, loving, wise, amused and delighted by the children, hungry for the pumpkin pie, easily pleased by what life had to offer, a wonderful friend. The Independent family--and the wide world--will miss her.