Roger Freeman had hardly taken office in the state House last year before a cancer diagnosis interrupted his rapid political ascent.
The defense attorney, Democrat and freshman lawmaker died late Wednesday morning at St. Francis Hospital in his hometown of Federal Way. He was 48.
Freeman leaves behind a wife, Sonya, and two school-age children.
Freeman died more than a week into all-mail voting in his first re-election bid, with 15.5 percent of King County voters and 14.2 percent of Pierce County voters having already cast their votes. He remains on the ballot against Republican Jack Dovey, with the election just six days away.
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If voters do choose Freeman posthumously, the King County and Pierce County councils would jointly choose a Democrat to replace him for a year from among three nominees picked by Democratic Party activists in the 30th District. Voters would then elect someone next year for the second half of his two-year term.
Loved ones and fellow politicians from both sides of the aisle Wednesday remembered Freeman for his faith in God, his interest in other people’s problems, his optimism and even his swagger — all of which persisted in the face of his diagnosis early last year with stage-four colon cancer.
As recently as earlier this month, while undergoing chemotherapy and other treatment, Freeman said he anticipated being healthy for a second term.
Former Rep. Mark Miloscia recalled how Freeman insisted the two of them pray about a problem Miloscia had, even though it paled in comparison to his health problems. Shari Song, Miloscia’s rival for Senate in the 30th District, said she would miss Freeman’s smile. Vancouver Rep. Monica Stonier, who remembers her fellow freshman lawmaker with a “fedora and a swagger,” was touched by how often he asked how she was doing.
Martin Moore, who worked for Freeman on campaigns and in the Legislature, remembered a sunny Freeman walking into their Capitol campus office and announcing: “You know what? I love this job. I love this job.”
“I just remember thinking to myself, ‘How lucky am I ... to hear a boss say that he loves his job?’ ” said Moore, a Federal Way city councilman.
As an attorney, Freeman worked in criminal law before specializing in defending parents trying to keep custody of their children after their removal by social workers.
He won a seat on the Federal Way City Council in 2009 and then became one of just two black members of the 147-member Legislature when he defeated a Republican House member in 2012.
Among accomplishments from his first term, Freeman had cited a law filling a gap in medical insurance coverage for injured firefighters and police officers. He also touted money the Legislature directed to his district, which includes Federal Way, Algona, Pacific, Milton and parts of Des Moines and Auburn.