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Remembering John Freemuth, Boise State Professor And Public Lands Expert

Andrus Center for Public Policy

Friends, colleagues and fellow public lands advocates are reeling over the sudden death of John Freemuth, who died May 2. Freemuth is being remembered as a mentor, scholar, author and, perhaps above all, a voice of reason and compassion. 

"He had more knowledge on public lands than all of us put together, but he never made you feel that way. He always had a kind word for everyone."

His friend and colleague at the Andrus Center for Public Policy, Tracy Andrus, the center's president and chairman, visited with George Prentice to reminisce about the man and a "life worth celebrating."

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio news. Good morning. I'm George Prentice.

John Freemuth died on May 2nd. It was a sudden passing, and it has left his family, friends, and colleagues… well, stunned. Processing this grief will take some time, but we thought we could take a few minutes to remember the scholar, the author, the advocate, the friend that was John Freemuth, professor and Cecil Andrus Center for Public Policy Endowed Chair of Environment and Public Lands.

Tracy Andrus is here, President and Chairman of the Andrus Center for Public Policy, and she joins us live via Zoom this morning. Tracy, good morning.

TRACY ANDRUS: Good morning, George. Thanks for having me.

PRENTICE: Well, I knew John Freemuth professionally. The one thing that I was certain of early on is that those who were lucky enough to know him personally and were able to call him friend were blessed.

ANDRUS: John was one of those people that everyone liked. I mean, how could you not? He was just a real person. He was easy to talk to. He had more knowledge on public lands than all of us put together, but he never made you feel that way. He always had a kind word for everyone.

PRENTICE: The one thing that struck me time and again is that if anyone was trying to get John to take a particular side of an argument or a debate, they were soon disappointed, because John Freemuth always respected different sides of any debate. But ultimately, he always sided with the truth.

ANDRUS: Yeah, absolutely. He worked hard to hear from all stakeholders and then find that common ground that worked both for people and for the land. John understood that compromise isn't a dirty word. It's a necessary tool to find solutions to some of our country's most politically-charged public lands issues. John was so skilled at finding that common ground.

PRENTICE: Could you talk a little bit about how John was aligned with your father's legacy?

ANDRUS: John always called him the boss. They got along so well, because they viewed our natural areas through the same lens. Dad always called it conservation pragmatism. That is that there is that common sense way to look at these issues and find something that works for everyone. Dad used to say, "If you were making half of the people on one side angry in one direction and the other half angry in the other direction, you were probably finding about that right sweet spot for something that would work for everyone." John believed in that, and that's why he was constantly in demand as a moderator for all sorts of discussions when it came to public lands, because he knew how to work towards that center.

PRENTICE: Well, there's so many ways to describe him, but one of the first words that pops to my mind is mentor, because I have met countless numbers of his students. That's another very big part of his legacy: his mentorship.

ANDRUS: He spent his life passing on all that knowledge to his students so that they could become the stewards and the leaders of tomorrow. That was when he was happiest was when he had his students around. He was always carting them around to different meetings around the country and conferences and that type of thing to broaden their knowledge base and to give them that core understanding so that they could lead when the time came. That's who will carry on his legacy are his students.

PRENTICE: Well, I have no doubt that you've had your share of tears in the last few hours, but can I assume there have been a few happy tears in his remembrance?

ANDRUS: Well, one of the things that happens when you get together with people who love somebody and you reminisce is that, yeah, you start telling stories. Some of them bring smiles to your face. They're happy tears, because John was one of those people ... I've always said, everybody's got a “Cece” story. People always would tell me stories about my father and how they met him and what he meant to them.

Well, in the last few days, everybody's got a John story, and they like to talk about a special time, a special memory, and what he's meant to them. It's a beautiful thing when you can all get together and share those memories and celebrate a life.

PRENTICE: Is there anything you know about a memorial service yet?

ANDRUS: I don't. We have given the family some requested space to grieve together and just to process this. It was so sudden. Boise State has said that they will hold a memorial in John's honor at some time when the situation with the coronavirus allows us to do that.

PRENTICE: A celebration of life.

ANDRUS: John had a life worth celebrating. We all want to participate in that.

PRENTICE: Tracy Andrus is President and Chairman of the Andrus Center for Public Policy. Tracy, thank you for giving me a few minutes this morning. I know it's been a tough week, but sharing a few minutes in regards to John Freemuth, well, that's always time well spent.

ANDRUS: Absolutely. Thanks so much, George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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