Rep. Roger Freeman has died at the age of 48.
According to a Franciscan media relations manager, Freeman passed away at 11:50 a.m. on Wednesday at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way.
He had been in the hospital since Tuesday night.
Freeman (D-Federal Way) was running for representative Position 2 in the 30th Legislative District against Jack Dovey (R-Federal Way).
In April 2013, Freeman disclosed he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and that doctors said the cancer had spread to his liver and his lower lungs.
At that time, he endured three chemotherapy sessions with nine more to go.
“Roger was a dear friend and colleague,” said Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell. “We worked together as lawyers, as City Council members and in our current roles. He was a true champion, an advocate for everyone and this community has suffered a great loss. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
City officials said staff is mourning the death of Freeman, who was a former Federal Way City Council member. Officials said the mayor has ordered flags at city facilities and the new 60-foot flagpole at South 320th Street be flown at half-staff to honor him.
Freeman began representing Federal Way as a member of the city’s volunteer Human Services Commission where he helped lead efforts to organize the community’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event.
He was elected to the City Council in 2010. And in 2012, he was elected to represent the Federal Way area and the 30th District in the Washington state House of Representatives where he served his first term in the Legislature.
Opponent Dovey said he thinks it’s a tragic event and that “we need to do everything we can to support his family.”
Rep. Linda Kochmar (R-Federal Way) said she was “so shocked” when she went to the hospital to see Freeman.
“He was a wonderful man,” she said. “He had a beautiful heart and we’ll miss him terribly. He was a really good person and I think now is the time to pray for him and his family.”
Kochmar said his wife and children are going to need a lot of support from friends, their church and the community.
“[My husband passed away] when I was 36, and, having been through it, the first couple of weeks you’re in a whirlwind of activities and then after that everyone leaves and the wife is left alone and it’s traumatic,” she said. “Most of the time I felt I just wanted to die. It’s a very difficult time in your life.”
Kochmar remembers Freeman’s “sweet giving nature” and that he had “quite a sense of humor.”
“There are certain issues he stood up for that were very important to him,” Kochmar said, adding that protecting foster children and the right to life were areas he had strong beliefs in.
Sen. Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way) said the 30th Legislative District “lost a great man today.”
“I’m heartsick and I feel for his family, his children and his wife,” Eide said. “He’s done a phenomenal job the last couple of years. He’s a very fine man and will be missed.”
She said he tackled tough problems “without blinking” and he faced stressful challenges “without losing the positive, can-do attitude we came to count on from him.”
King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer said in a statement that Freeman was a “man of deep faith and I know he is now with his Lord. I appreciated working with Roger when he was a member of the Federal Way City Council and as a member of the Washington state Legislature. I especially respected his independent approach to public policy issues.
“My prayers and thoughts are with his wife, Sonya, his two children, his family and friends.”
Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way) said Freeman was a “courageous and faithful” friend whom he looked up to.
“He and his wife Sonya are a model Christian family here in Federal Way,” Miloscia said. “No matter the difficulties he faced, even up to the very end, he was a joyful person full of love for the Lord and always thinking of those around him. He will be missed.”
Federal Way City Councilwoman Susan Honda recalls working with Freeman on the Diversity Commission.
“He was instrumental in bringing the Martin Luther King celebration back,” she said. “We didn’t do it for a couple of years and he helped get funding for it … He has two teenage children and I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now.”
Rep. Chad Magendanz, a Republican running in the 5th Legislative District, also expressed his condolences about the news.
“I just received word that Roger Freeman, state representative in the 30th Legislative District, has passed away,” Magendanz wrote on his Facebook. “Roger joined the Legislature with me in 2012, and it has been my honor to serve with him. As a public defender representing those affected by mental illness, the homeless and the poor, he has been a consistent advocate for those who have been disenfranchised by society. But more importantly, he was a good man who served the people of the 30th with dignity and fidelity, even while struggling with cancer. He will be missed.”
Councilman Martin Moore recalled his favorite memory of Freeman was when he was working in his cubicle and Freeman came into his office.
“It was a beautiful, sunny day and he looked up at the capital from his office and he said, ‘Martin, I love this job — I absolutely love it,'” Moore recalled. “I was thinking, this is incredible to hear those words and know you’re working with someone who loves their job every single day.”
Moore added he was “blessed” to have called Freeman a boss, mentor and friend.
Washington 30th District Democrats Chair Tim Burns said he’s worked on Freeman’s campaign since 2009 when Freeman ran for the Federal Way City Council.
“He was an upstanding guy,” Burns said. “I never heard anything negative about him.”
Although Burns said he’s still processing the news, he said the Democratic Party is going to need to take some official action but anticipated it wouldn’t be until later.
According to Burns, in the case a legislator cannot fulfill his seat, all of the precinct committee officers are called to a special meeting where they select three candidates in ranked order. The names are submitted by the county organizations to the County Council in which they choose one of those three people to fill the position.
Because the 30th Legislative District overlaps Pierce County, both counties would have to come to an agreement on the candidate, Burns said.
But because it’s about a week before election day, Nov. 4, they likely wouldn’t start until after the election and only if voters choose Freeman for the Position 2 seat.
“As a legislator, he was passionate about social justice, strong families and educational opportunities for all,” House speaker Frank Chopp and Democratic Caucus Chair Eric Pettigrew wrote in a statement. “We will miss him greatly. Our focus in the coming days will be making sure his wife, Sonya, and their children are cared for. They are his greatest legacy.”
To help Freeman’s family, donate at www.gofundme.com/rogerfreeman.
Mirror reporter Sarah Kehoe contributed to this report.