Constance "Connie" Freeman had a remarkable career of economic development and foreign policy work in Africa, India and Washington that stands out in one of Minnesota's most famous political families.
Freeman, who steered through coups, corruption, war and economic turbulence during stints at the Peace Corps, the State Department and Capitol Hill, died Nov. 4 at 78 from a heart attack. She was the daughter of former Minnesota Gov. Orville Freeman and DFL political force Jane Freeman, as well as the sister of former Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.
"If we think about [politics] on the international scale, Connie knew more than all the rest of them," said Dr. Katie Freeman, a family doctor in St. Paul and Connie's niece. "She just knew about the whole world instead of the little tiny corner of Minnesota."
Born in 1945, Freeman had a childhood in Minnesota dominated by the political arena, she said in a 1996 interview with the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.
There were "endless church picnics," near-constant elections and a move to D.C. at age 15 when her father was appointed to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President John F. Kennedy.
Mike Freeman said Connie "was an intellectual, independent and self-sufficient woman her entire life, with a healthy dose of determination, which runs, liberally, in the family. And, following in the footsteps of our formidable mother, she was an ardent feminist, her life long."
Connie Freeman got her professional start in Washington after studying international relations at American University. Before she graduated in 1969, she hitchhiked across West Africa — including through Nigeria, then engaged in a civil war. "Not to be recommended, but it certainly was fun and exciting," Freeman told the diplomatic association.
"I feel like everything in the Freeman family is a reflection of Jane and Orv in some way," Katie Freeman said. "Connie took the intelligence that my grandmother really had. People have lots of wonderful things to say about Orville, but Jane was brilliant. And she said, 'No, I'm not going to just stand on the sidelines and be pretty and support a spouse and not get to have a say and a role.'"
After earning a Ph.D. from the University of Denver studying economic development in India and China, she taught economics at the University of Zambia and was a staffer from 1975 to 1978 on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while U.S. Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota served.
Later, she was the Peace Corps director in Congo-Brazzaville and Cameroon. Starting in 1983, she had a 15-year career with the U.S. Department of State, working on economic policy in India and Africa, primarily in Kenya. After that, she spent another 15 years in Kenya as regional director for southern and eastern Africa at Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
"Most of that, again, as a single professional woman in Africa in the '70s and '80s and '90s and running large organizations when that wasn't a thing," Katie Freeman said.
Matt Freeman, Connie's nephew, said Kenya was home for his aunt after so much time in different countries. The IDRC focused on supporting "Africans developing solutions for Africans," he said.
In her 1996 interview, part of an oral history project, Freeman recounted political and economic debates over socialism, capitalism and more that framed the trajectory of countries that had only recently become independent from colonial powers. Freeman said she often sent cables as "Dr. Constance Freeman" when people did not take her seriously as a young woman.
"The consequence of that was that many … expected a male," Freeman said.
Later in life, Freeman returned to the U.S. and taught graduate courses in African studies at Syracuse University. She loved to travel and keep up with many friends oversees.
Along with her brother Mike, niece Katie and nephew Matthew, Freeman's survivors include niece Beth Moncrief and dear friend Terry Freeman. A memorial celebration is planned at Riderwood Senior Living Community in Silver Spring, Md., at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 20.