Orville L. Freeman, former Minnesota governor and agriculture secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, died Thursday. He was 84. Mr. Freeman died of complications from Alzheimer ' s disease, his family said in a statement.
Mr. Freeman was among a generation of nationally prominent leaders from Minnesota ' s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party that included Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. Mr. Freeman won the first of three two-year terms as governor in 1954, after an unsuccessful try in 1952. Just 36, he beat Republican C. Elmer Anderson to become the state ' s first non-Republican governor in 17 years. In 1960, Mr. Freeman supported Humphrey ' s unsuccessful try for the Democratic presidential nomination. But after Humphrey withdrew, Mr. Freeman, a Lutheran deacon, delivered John F. Kennedy ' s nominating speech at the Democratic National Convention, prompting angry letters from some Minnesotans who disapproved of Kennedy ' s Catholicism. While Kennedy won the presidency that November, Mr. Freeman lost his bid for a fourth term. He blamed the loss in part on anger over his intervention in a 1959 strike at a meatpacking plant, something he said he did to prevent bloodshed. Kennedy did not forget his friend. The day after the election, he asked Mr. Freeman to join him in Washington, and Mr. Freeman became agriculture secretary. During his years as secretary, food exports nearly doubled, government-held surpluses fell, food aid to the poor expanded and agriculture was improved in poor countries. But a 1969 editorial in the Minneapolis Tribune shortly before he left office said Mr. Freeman was " unable to end the department ' s 35-year history of ineffectual wrestling with surpluses and the problems of low-income farmers. " It said that he did not achieve his goal of balancing farm supply and demand and that the number of farms decreased steadily during his tenure. After Mr. Freeman ' s tenure as agriculture secretary, he became chief operating officer of EDP Technology Inc., a consulting company, and then headed Business International Corp., a New York consulting, research and publishing company, from 1971 to 1985. In 1985, Mr. Freeman returned to Washington to work for a law firm and lead the Agriculture Council of America, a group dedicated to increasing farm exports. Mr. Freeman moved back to Minneapolis in 1995. He worked on his memoirs and was a visiting scholar at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. He is survived by his wife, Jane, a son and a daughter. Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune on 2/26/2003. (volunteer submission)