“To my mind, there is no delight commensurate with that of a good long day’s work.” So Douglas Southall Freeman once wrote to his mother. Many of us today might voice similar sentiments in our callings, but most of us would be hard pressed to match Freeman’s “long day.”
Douglas Southall Freeman is best known as a military historian and winner of two Pulitzers, one for his monumental biography of Robert E. Lee (a massive, four-volume biography that took 18 years to complete), and a second (awarded posthumously) for his equally imposing seven-volume biography of George Washington.
Born on May 16, 1886 in
Sixty-five years later, Douglas Freeman would credit his own success to the example his father had provided in adversity: “Any man is apt to lose his way. The test of his manhood and of his intelligence is to find a new way” (David E. Johnson, Douglas Southall Freeman [
He had once considered a calling to the ministry, but chose not to and entered a season of doubt about his faith. But while still a young man, he returned to the faith of his fathers through an invitation to speak in a dingy, “skid row”
Freeman would always refer to that service as the time he committed himself to “try to lead the Christ life,” and he came to realize it was God’s will that he write: “Every man must have his work, and that is mine—to labour earnestly, to labour honestly, and bring out something that may be worth men’s while to read” (66). So he “went to work for the Kingdom . . . I saw what the name of Jesus was doing with men, how this power was transforming their lives” (144).
And go to work he did. Freeman compressed four full-time careers into his life of sixty-seven years. He was an educator (teaching journalism at
Freeman first became editor of the News Leader at the age of twenty-nine. In just seven years under Freeman’s leadership, the paper’s circulation exploded from 22,000 to 47,000. His editorials and morning radio broadcasts became a necessary staple in the morning diet of thousands of Virginians. The newspaper continued to prosper under Freeman and on July 24, 1924, the News Leader moved into a new building in downtown
How did he accomplish all of this? Discipline. For many years Freeman adhered to a time management system that has become legendary. According to biographer David Johnson, this was his typical day:
2:30 am . Awake.
2:31-2:44 Dress, shave, devotional.
2:45 Downstairs to kitchen.
2:45-3:08 Prepare and eat breakfast, walk to car.
3:08-3:25 Drive to Richmond News Leader office.
3:25-3:29 Park, walk into building, up to office.
3:30 At desk, Associated Press wires in hand.
3:31-7:58 Read wire dispatches and morning paper, write editorials, mark items for index.
7:58-8:00 Walk to WRNL radio
8:15-8:17 Walk back to office.
8:17-8:32 Morning staff meeting.
8:32-11:58 Attend to duties of editor: answer mail, receive visitors, attend meetings, check first edition of paper, block and set editorials. In later years, Freeman sometimes took a brief nap at 11:00.)
11:58-12:00 Walk to WRNL radio.
12:15-12:17 Walk back to office.
12:17-12:30 Complete last details of day and prepare for next day. Walk to car.
12:30-12:47 Drive home.
12:48-2:00 Lunch with Mrs. Freeman, work in the garden, walk the grounds. A less structured time.
2:00-2:30 Nap (sometimes the nap would last only fifteen minutes).
2:30-6:30 Work in study on historical projects.
6:30-8:45 Dinner; evening with family.
8:45 Retire for the evening.
Freeman once stated that scraps of time “may seem so trivial they are not worth saving but the wise use of them may make all the difference between drudgery and happiness, between existence and a career” (225). He was so conscious of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “redeem the time” that he purchased a ready-knotted bow tie and boasted it saved him one thousand minutes a year!
His punctuality was legendary. Freeman’s nephew, Mallory, served as his radio show’s announcer and recounted that he would be looking at an empty microphone as he began every broadcast with the phrase, “and here is Dr. Freeman,” but by the time the last word left his lips, the dependable Dr. Freeman would be seated in his chair, ready to speak!
Freeman was dependable in his service and devotion to God. For many years, he was active in the
Douglas Southall Freeman, biographer, historian, educator, businessman, and Christian leader, rested from his labors on June 13, 1953 at 4:20 pm. Words he penned in 1948 serve as an appropriate epitaph for his life: “I expect to die with a pen in my hand, with thanks to God on my lips for the opportunity of having led a life where I was permitted to work on the glorious yesterdays adorned by the noble figures whom I had the privilege of knowing ” (351).
Today, Freeman rests from his work in historic Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. There, he is surrounded by many of "the noble figures whom he had the privilege of knowing."
(Taken from Christian Business Legends by Richard G. Williams, Jr. & Jared Crooks – The Business Reform Foundation © 2004.)