Betty Freed­man, pi­o­neer of cul­ture

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Brian Ea­son

Betty Freed­man, a pi­o­neer in women’s bank­ing who helped shape many of Den­ver’s bedrock cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions, died Tues­day at her home on Elm Street. She was 95.

Born in July 1922 in Den­ver, Freed­man left a last­ing mark on the city, lever­ag­ing her wide net­work of so­cial con­tacts — in­clud­ing the for­mer first lady of Colorado, Ann Love — to gen­er­ate sup­port for an ar­ray of civic causes, most no­tably the Den­ver Pub­lic Li­brary and Den­ver Art Mu­seum.

From a young age, Freed­man loved to read — a pas­sion that would lead to stints as a ra­dio writer and a long­time book re­viewer for The Den­ver Post.

But one of her most in­flu­en­tial en­deav­ors was her work with the Women’s Bank, which she helped found in 1978 with a group of other women.

At the time, most mar­ried women couldn’t have credit cards in their own name, or get a loan without help from their hus­band.

“We wanted them to be self-suf­fi­cient and ca­pa­ble on their own,” Freed­man told The Post in a 2007 in­ter­view.

“My mother had no ex­pe­ri­ence in bank­ing — she was a writer,” said her son, Jonathan Freed­man. “(But) she had great peo­ple skills and in­cred­i­ble con­tacts with movers and shak­ers, be­cause she had been part of the small group of peo­ple that built the Den­ver Mu­seum of Art, that got the Den­ver Pub­lic Li­brary funded.

“She said ‘we re­ally need some­one who knows bank­ing to head this up,’ ” he added. ” ‘We don’t just want this to be a bank for women, we want it to be a suc­cess­ful bank.’ “

So Freed­man sent letters — on sta­tion­ary that bore her hus­band’s name — to 10 prom­i­nent fe­male busi­ness lead­ers across the coun­try. Only one re­sponded, but her fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion caught the big fish she needed.

A ti­tan of the bank­ing in­dus­try, Mary Roe­bling, who was the first wo­man to ever run a ma­jor U.S. bank, flew in from New Jersey and signed on to help.

Today, the bank she helped start is known as the Colorado Busi­ness Bank, a multi-bil­lion ven­ture that got off the ground with 50 women chip­ping in $1,000 a piece.

The ease with which Freed­man made con­nec­tions opened doors through­out her life.

In the 1970s, she hosted a del­e­ga­tion of Chi­nese ta­ble ten­nis play­ers dur­ing the era of “ping­pong diplo­macy” — an ex­change of ath­letes that helped thaw re­la­tions be­tween the U.S. and China.

Freed­man was also the first Jewish board mem­ber for the lo­cal debu­tante ball, and Jonathan said she used her po­si­tion to en­cour­age diversity in an in­sti­tu­tion that was his­tor­i­cally closed off to Jews and other mi­nor­ity groups.

Among fam­ily and friends, Freed­man was known for her big heart.

When Jonathan was in high school, his best friend’s dad died.

See­ing a fam­ily in sham­bles, Betty and her hus­band, Mar­shall, who was a prom­i­nent lo­cal doctor, let Jonathan’s friend stay with them through his se­nior year in high school, then helped him go to col­lege.

That friend went on to be­come a psy­chi­a­trist.

“His job is nur­tur­ing peo­ple who are in cri­sis,” Jonathan Freed­man said.

“He’s told me on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions how much it meant for Betty to be his mother in terms of nur­tur­ing him.”

His friend wasn’t the only one his mother in­spired.

“I hated read­ing, and I hated writ­ing, and I be­came a jour­nal­ist and writer,” said Jonathan, who won a Pulitzer Prize for ed­i­to­rial writ­ing at the San Diego Tri­bune.

“I loved her so much.” Freed­man’s funeral is set for 10:30 a.m. Sun­day at Emanuel Ceme­tery at Fair­mount.

She was pre­ceded in death by her hus­band, Dr. Mar­shall Freed­man, and a son, Dou­glas.

She is sur­vived by her son, Jonathan Freed­man; daugh­ter, Tracy Freed­man; seven grand­chil­dren and three great-grand­chil­dren.

Courtesy Freed­man fam­ily

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