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January 07, 2009

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009

Peter Freyne never missed a deadline in the 13 years he worked for Seven Days. He delivered his political column, "Inside Track," every Tuesday by 4 p.m. and was never subtle about it. Shortly after emailing his article, Freyne would show up at the office to answer questions, argue, check last-minute facts and, depending on his mood, terrorize our staff. His column was the last thing we squeezed into the paper before sending it to press.

So it’s ironic — not to mention premature and terribly sad — that Peter Freyne left this Earth early on a Wednesday. After battling cancer, seizures and a strep infection that spread to his brain, he died peacefully at Fletcher Allen Health Care at 12:26 a.m. today — six hours after our weekly deadline. Did he have a hand in the timing of his final departure, knowing the news would break just after the paper went to bed? We wouldn’t put it past him to go out with a poke.

Peter-freyne Freyne, 59, came out of the bar-stool school of journalism, along with his hero, Chicago newspaperman Mike Royko. He never went to school to learn to be a political columnist, but brought his considerable and diverse life experiences to a fun and informative “Inside Track” that originated in the Vanguard Press, Burlington’s original alt weekly, in the late ’80s. Freyne was the rare reporter who could skewer a politician in print and have a drink with him two days later — until he gave up drinking. Many of his “victims” became his sources — and in some cases, friends.

Vermont journalism has been a lot less lively since he retired last June. Here's a video that Eva Sollberger made of Freyne right after that, when Seven Days readers once again named him the state's "Best Print Journalist" in our annual Daysies survey.

His passing marks the end of an era. He may have planned that, too.

Please direct media inquiries to Seven Days Co-editor Pamela Polston, 864-5684, [email protected].

Click here for downloadable press images of Peter.

******

UPDATE: We'll post information about a memorial service here and in the newspaper next week. Thanks for all of your messages.

From Governor Jim Douglas:

"Early this morning, longtime political columnist Peter Freyne peacefully passed away. I’ve known Peter for many years. Peter was a determined journalist who had a way about him that was uniquely his. You knew where you stood with him – a trait that made all public officials examine their positions more closely. Peter will be missed."

From Sue Allen at the Times Argus:

"This loss hits close to home for me. I've worked with Peter since becoming a journalist in Vermont in in the '80s, and would like to think I've learned a great deal from watching him dig like a terrier for tips, follow up on leads with a tenacity I could only admire, and hold every public official's feet to a ferocious fire."

From Jack McCullough at Green Mountain Daily:

"Many Vermont bloggers look at Peter as a kind of godfather. He did the kind of journalism that we aspire to: irreverent, insightful analysis, personal perspective and voice, and a commitment to progressive values."

From Philip Baruth at Vermont Daily Briefing:

"There’s been no reason to say so until now, but this blog began with a kind note from Freyne, about a VPR commentary I wrote on Vermont’s role in opposing the Bush Administration. He ended that note with the word 'Bravo!' And that one word of praise, coming as it did from that one particular guy, was enough to make me think I had it in me to write about politics on a daily basis."

From Senator Patrick Leahy:

"Marcelle and I have lost a good friend, and Vermont has lost its own version of the legendary Mike Royko.

Though Peter was born in the age of manual typewriters, in recent years he took to blogs like a 20-year-old. Flatlander reporters sought him out first when they wanted to understand our state. He brought insight to some of the biggest stories of our time here in Vermont – the civil unions debate, the Dean campaign, the Jeffords switch and the war in Iraq.

He was courageous in his fight with cancer and helped many others facing similar battles.

He knew the difference between healthy skepticism and hollow cynicism, and his reporting helped make Vermont better.

From Sam "The Sham" Hemingway at the Burlington Free Press:

"I'll miss Peter, even though I was among the many who he sometimes skewered in his column over the years. I'll miss him because, while I took issue with some of his tactics, there was nothing phony about the guy. He was a passionate political junkie, which I admired, and it was always great theater watching him use the press conference format to ask a politician an uncomfortable question, just to see how the person would react."

From Senator Bernie Sanders:

"Peter Freyne was one of the most remarkable individuals I ever met, and I am going to miss him very much. As a friend and occasional antagonist for over 25 years, I knew Peter to be brilliant, honest, courageous and unusually observant. In addition, he was prickly, annoying, and utterly relentless in getting the information that he wanted.

"I first encountered Peter when I became mayor of Burlington in 1981. While he was supportive of many of my initiatives, it was not unusual for us to have strong differences of opinion, to say the least, about some of the decisions I made as mayor.

"A small memory of mine reveals his quirky but perceptive personality. I remember an event that I held as mayor to talk about our success in repaving Burlington’s streets. We served sandwiches. Peter ate about half of them. In his next column, he commented about the absurdity of serving sandwiches at such an event. He was right, as he was on so many other occasions.

"He was also right about bigger issues, including the war in Iraq, which he felt very strongly about. At almost every press conference that he attended, he in one way or another made clear his disgust with the war.

"He was also right in being the lead reporter in Vermont prepared to take on the scandal several years ago at Fletcher Allen Hospital, which ended with the CEO receiving a prison sentence.

"I think it is fair to say that Peter was an institution in the state of Vermont. He will be missed by thousands of his readers, he will be missed by his many friends, and he will most assuredly be missed by me."

From Congressman Peter Welch:

"Peter Freyne was a gift to Vermont.

"The power and punch of Peter’s writing was rivaled only by his passion for justice and his contempt for pomposity. Those of us who occasionally found ourselves on the receiving end of his acerbic observations rarely considered it an enjoyable experience. But behind the force of his personality and his hard-hitting reportorial instincts, it was clear to all who knew him that his spirit was as gentle as his soul was poetic.

"Peter often seemed to know more about what was going on in Vermont politics than did the state’s politicians – including this one. But it was his understanding of the human condition that set him apart from most.Though he had a deep passion for making the world a better place, he understood all too well the foibles and limitations of the human spirit.

"Peter will truly be missed."

From Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin:

"I am deeply saddened by the news of Peter Freyne’s death. Peter was an insightful and witty journalist who filled an important niche in Vermont’s press corp. Peter could always be counted on to ask the probing question that would make any public official squirm, find the lead to an exclusive story, and keep Vermonters up to date and smiling with his weekly column. Peter was a great friend and will be sorely missed."

From Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith:

"It was with sorrow that I heard the news today of Peter Freyne’s death. Peter brought unique insight to the state and its politics.  He used his humor and investigative drive to connect Vermont readers with the inner workings of their government. I am happy to have known Peter and I know he will be missed by many."

UPDATE 1/8/09: Many media outlets have reported on Peter's passing. Here are some of the links we've collected:

Journalist Freyne dies at 59 (by Sam Hemingway at The Burlington Free Press)

A Rememberence of Peter Freyne (by Ross Sneyd at Vermont Public Radio)

Longtime Vt. political writer Freyne dies, 59 (by Dan Barlow at the Times Argus)

The Times Argus also published an editorial about Peter.

UPDATE 1/13/09: Here's a video tribute from CCTV.

Peter is one of the biggest characters I met when I came into the b-town scene in the early 80's. I know I rubbed him the wrong way roller skating around the daily planet having fun while he sat alone in his trench coat on his barstool forever the keen observer. I always read inside track before anything else in 7 days. The column only got better as the years progressed. Peter changed from a big, glumphy loner and cynical guy in a trenchcoat to a beautiful, fit ,cynical guy with more friends than he could imagine. I am so sad that he has passed on but his memory will be with me for a long time.
andrea Miksic

It has taken me a few days to compose my thoughts for this blog. Frankly, I've been dismayed by the utter lack of manners, tact, and respect by a select few of the posters.

I had a love/hate relationship with Freyne. Some of the things he wrote infuriated me; I felt he went beyond a journalist's role and was there purely for entertainment's sake. Other times, and more often than not, I appreciated that he asked the questions we, as the public, wanted/needed to know. Regardless of what you thought of him, I believe he was one of the few Vermont journalists who didn't toe the line, he was there to get the story.

Peace to you, Peter.

As one who had made it through lymphoma treatment only two months before Peter had to confront his own treatment and mortality, I was pulling for him all the way, wishing him well, never thinking that in the end the pernicious side-effects would get him. While Peter may indeed have been mean-spirited on occasion in life (who hasn’t been?), as miserably angry and bitter “Gringo” and “Happy” tell us anonymously now that he is dead, Peter will be remembered by so many of us for exposing arrogance, hypocrisy, and corruption and for delighting also in the smaller pleasures of life, usually with a twinkle in his eye. And so, a traditional farewell paean in memory of our own crusty, albeit sometimes tarnished Don Quixote of Burlap-- Tally-ho

The Parting Glass
Of all the money that e'er I had,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm I've ever done,
alas it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
to mem'ry now I can't recall;
So fill to me the parting glass,
Good night and joy be to you all.

So fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate’er befalls
And gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

Of all the comrades that e'er I had,
They're sorry for my going away.
And all my sweethearts that e'er I had,
They'd wish me one more day to stay.
But since it fell unto my lot,
That I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call,
Good night and joy be to you all.

Fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate’er befalls
And gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

But since it fell unto my lot,
That I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call,
Good night and joy be to you all.
Fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate’er befalls
And gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all
Good night and joy be to you all

Cathy Resmer wrote:

From the editor:

A couple people have inquired whether we might delete the few negative comments on this memorial thread.

I just wanted to let everyone know that I thought about that possibility yesterday, and decided to leave them up. By the time I had seen the comments, other people had responded, and it seemed more appropriate to allow that conversation to take place here — mainly because it's about Peter, who was loath to censor any comments on his own blog. And he got some bad ones.

I think I'm afraid to cross him, even now.

But that could change. It really is in extremely poor taste to post nasty, anonymous comments about someone who just died, even if the person in question was as "prickly" as Peter. That's a nice euphemism, I think.

[...]

---------------

When I first read the cowardly anonymously posted comments in question last week, my initial reaction was to also ask they be taken down.

Yet, quickly enough, had realized as well that doing so would end up muting the conversation taking place by others who responded.

In addition, it could be exactly what some of these needy, hate mongering trolls are seeking, at least in part and whether they are aware of it or not anyway.

As awful as their words might be, including some rather ugly ones posted after your comment about such, I would urge that if at all possible you do not change course within this particular comment thread. And, yes, it is rather obvious there are some who are bent on pushing that envelope.

In the end, let them have their say and allow us the option of continuing to simply ignore them as they deserve and, as always, Peter would have the last laugh about such too.

Don't give them the satisfaction.

That said, one thing to consider doing however is, since I assume you have the ISP and other related information on your end regarding each comment, you could always opt to post such information for all to see so we could know the sources of these comments (although I am sure the 7Days lawyers may have a word to say about this too).

It is just a thought.

why be sad
when one so noble
goes passing by
wasn't it he
who in his going
said not nil nor nigh
leave a little slack
let a bit more line
each and every tying
lessons from the vine
all the things i wonder
there so far away
one day soon will answer
the question of today

"As the years roar by, we know Mr. Happy is not "happy".

There is more meaning in the passing of our great Patriot, Peter Freyne -- and writer of all known sins amongst us all. There is meaning in the actual gall and initiative that makes us write what we know - and publish it. Our friend, our compadre was such a person who held no CARES -- as to what the concequences may or would have been. There was a bravitiy to publishers who recognized this, years before and after -- with shades of oppression and turmoil from the 60's & 70's haunting us all for seemed like centuries. There was a cry and pleading to make things known, and a notion to make it at least into satire, if nothing else, to enlighten others to this so-called right:
"Freedom of The Press". Those who didn't get the satire were left behind, or maybe still catching up?!

Having been part of a huge effort in Vermont, with others seeking the same reality - we found what we were looking for with refuge but cold temps; after the chaos in the cities and campuses of the 60's.

We found a beautiful, magnificent state that was willing to put up with our need for an outlet from all the oppression from Watergate, the Viet Nam War etc., a state that was always, and ever remain, our home. There were people from the pig farms in New Mexico, and folks from Oregon...Chicago - we were family, and eventually Vermont became our home.

Peter personified our goals -- and took the price at an early age, dealing with it all ...not only gracefully but with swords - which were sure to terrify some, but knowing to others.

Our Golden Age of Leunig's is gone. Our many discussions in many pubs are merely echos in the still, will and crazy nights that still exist - and you can believe we still miss it.

But our love for the truth - our love for Peter and 'straight-talkin' journalist' like him will keep on, no matter how far, or how distant we are from Church St.

Here's to our mentor, our friend, our Compadre M. Freyne --I see you, and it's a beautiful light out here in California, the moon is waxing - and setting over the ocean.

"After you left
I spread sand
on the doorstep
then turned my back
to sit and wait

Twelve days I have dozed
and chased my dreams
and still there is
no footprint"
--Unknown (at least to me)

They said I would shine
Like the light in the city
I hoped it would be like the moon
on the sea.

here's seeing you on the sea on the west coast my friend....

love,
lizi

I have known Peter forever it seems. We had both New York and Chicago connections as well as that cementing bond of Irish ancestry. We would often greet each other with a line of Irish poetry or Irish song and the other would answer with the next line. Our last email exchange, appropriately, was the Irish Blessing and only the last line was left unsaid. So I will say it now with tears still in my eyes...

And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

shit.

guess when you leave burlington, you're the last to know.

It's ironic to know that just yesterday i mentioned to someone, can't remember who, that peter and i had had a fascinating conversation about his father some year's back. (As of yesterday, I didn't yet know that Peter had died.) I recall saying to Peter after we shared our families' histories, (being a Collins, we've got a few things in common), I said to him, "So, when are you going to write the book? You NEED to write the book, you know." He gave me that cheshire cat smile and never answered the question. I thought at the time, and still do, if anyone could have written the definitive story of the tumultuous Irish in the early 20th century, it would have been Peter. And it would have been a damn good read!

I'm sorry he's gone. Peter was my favorite iconoclast.

peace peter, wherever you are.
mary collins

I crossed paths with Peter Freyne during the mid-90s, when he was raking the muck for the Vermont Times and Seven Days and I was a young reporter for WPTZ. Peter schooled the rest of us in a variety of ways. I remember waiting for news conferences with then-Governor Howard Dean and Peter saying, "What are you gonna ask him?" Like most of his questions, he seemed to have several motives. He was naturally curious, he seemed interested in what the competition was doing, what path the news was taking next. It occurs to me it was also his way of suggesting we think carefully about these Q and A sessions. Be strategic. Have a plan. It was a prod: with every question, you have an opportunity and a responsibility. Don't waste it.

Now, years down the road, I see Peter as a great role model for the rest of us. Always digging, always asking the tough questions, always sticking up for the average person, who generally has little access to those in power and therefore no voice. Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, indeed.

As tough and relentless as he could be on the targets of his scrutiny, he was often very encouraging for young reporters in town, taking the time to mention in his column when someone was getting a promotion or a new job or getting married.

His legacy reaches far and wide and includes a generation of journalists who learned the trade in Vermont and had the great luck to observe Peter in all his larger-than-life glory.

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