From an early age, Freeman worked alongside his parents in their family-owned business, Flowers by Ralph. He studied horticulture at the University of Connecticut, then studied commercial floriculture and plant physiology, earning his Master’s degree from Cornell. He moved to Long Island, N.Y., with his wife, Carol, and worked as a floriculture extension specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.
Through years of dedication to the business and high standards of excellence, Freeman established himself as a leader and resource for flower growers, industry representatives and extension professionals.
Freeman earned the Long Island Farm Bureau’s Citizen of the Year award in 1999 because of his influence on Long Island’s agricultural industry. He served on several boards of directors, including the Center for Controlled Environment Agriculture (Rutgers University), Controlled Environment Agriculture (Cornell) and the John G. Seeley Conference (Cornell). Freeman has also served on the boards of directors for Bedding Plants Inc. and Professional Plant Growers Association, which are both international industry trade associations.
Freeman also led several educational tours and authored numerous articles related to the floriculture industry. He was a frequent lecturer at state, national and international horticultural programs and conventions. He counseled people starting new businesses, consulted for FarmNet and was a trusted advisor to the agricultural community. Always a proud Cornellian, Freeman often provided career guidance as well as references to high school students with aspirations of attending his alma mater.
“Ralph was a true extension agent,” says Dick Meister, who co-launched Greenhouse Grower magazine nearly 30 years ago. “He liked to get out and work with growers and was always looking for new practical information. He had an inquiring mind that led him to take leadership positions with Bedding Plants Inc. and Cornell’s Seeley Conference. But he disliked sitting in meetings for days at a time. He loved to be in the field checking things out and leading groups of growers on quests for new knowledge to the great floriculture events in Holland and Germany. It will be hard to find another with Ralph’s good sense of humor and his energy and enthusiasm for things that affect the working grower.”
Freeman is survived by his wife of 49 years, Carol; daughter, Cheryl, of New Jersey; son, Ralph Jr., of Delaware; daughter Heather Hughes of Delaware; his grandchildren, Linnea, Myles, Erika, Teddy, Lauren, AnnaKate and Joshua; and his siblings, Carl Freeman, Elaine Freeman Dunay, Dale Freeman Rahl and Bruce Freeman, all of Connecticut, and Jon Freeman of Vermont.
Tax-deductible donations in Freeman’s honor may be sent to Cornell University for the Student Intern Endowment, 3059 Sound Ave., Riverhead, NY 11901.