Wedding songs

A Mother’s Legacy and Love Lives On in Her Four Daughters – Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

Sisters Kara, Marcie, Missy and Debbie (lr) at PanCAN PurpleStride Washington, DC to honor their mother, the late Winnie Freeman.

Editor’s note: Today we honor all the mothers and mother figures in our lives! Here, the story of an incredible mom and the daughters who carry on her legacy.

“Your mother was an angel on Earth,” they said.

“She was one of a kind.”

“Larger than life.”

“She gave me the coat she had on her back one winter day when I was cold.”


Mary “Winnie” Freeman

At Mary Winifred “Winnie” Harris Freeman’s wake and funeral in November 2012, more than 1,000 people who loved and admired her gathered to say goodbye. And to tell the family how much better she has made their lives.

Her four daughters, her son and her husband remember meeting people they didn’t know – people they didn’t know that Winnie knew.

The service was at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Roman Catholic Church in Washington, DC, near the United States Capitol, and a family acquaintance later told them they had seen so many parked cars that they thought a dignitary had died.

The mother who worked for the USDA as an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist was, in her career and in her personal life, all about helping others.

She always gave back. Help the homeless. Volunteer with the suicide prevention hotline. Visiting women’s shelters. She taught her children to do the same. Among her daughters’ favorite memories growing up are regular visits to the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the nation’s oldest order of African-American Catholic nuns.

Come Super Bowl time, she would bring the party to them.

“As of today, we’re having a Super Bowl party at the nuns!” said her daughter Marcie Freeman.

The Freeman family of Washington, DC, in an undated group photo

The Freeman Family

Marcie, along with sisters Kara Freeman, Debbie Freeman and Missy Freeman Booze, all have Winnie’s generous spirit.

And over the past decade, they have championed the cause of pancreatic cancer, donated, raised funds, raised awareness and participated in PanCAN PurpleStride Washington, DC, with Team Winnie Walkerswhich they launched in 2013.

“If she was alive, she would do this”

The sisters are full of fun stories and wonderful memories of their mom and her big heart.

Take the time that Marcie has won a big sum at Bingo. She shared her winnings with her parents and siblings, but later learned that her mother had given her amount to someone else. “It was her,” Marcie said, “always wanting to bless someone or make someone else happy.”

Winnie was also known for her sense of humor AND her dancing. Marcie took her mother with her to a wedding once. “She was my plus-one,” she said. “I left her alone for a few minutes to go to the ladies room, and when I came back she had all the wedding guests on a ‘Soul Train Line’.”

She loved to entertain.

“As long as you have a can of Cheez Whiz, it’s party time!” Winnie was known to say.

She organized tea parties. Halloween parties. Mardi Gras evenings. She was particularly good at entertaining children.

When people mentioned to Winnie that she would make a great clown, she was in for it.

Inasmuch as

“Winnie the Clown”

“After she retired, she went to Clown College, and from there she was known as ‘Winnie the Clown of Clown Town,'” Kara said.

Missy recalled helping Winnie with makeup at an event, where she “clowned” in her costume.

“I looked up from the painting and realized mum wasn’t with me. I spotted her in front of the crowd – in her clown costume, dancing.

Winnie was the life of the party, never sidelined… Debbie remembers seeing Winnie on CNN once – from Debbie’s office at the US Embassy in Venezuela. Her mother was in the famous Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in Washington, DC, with her troupe of clowns, waving to the crowds and enjoying the spotlight.

Never sidelined…until August 2012, a month after her 50th wedding anniversary. The family was at a crab feast, and even though Winnie was dancing and having fun, Marcie remembers her saying, “Don’t make me laugh too much, my stomach hurts.”

She lived 68 days after a stage 4 diagnosis and died on November 4, 2012. She was 71 years old. Winnie’s brother had also died of pancreatic cancer several years earlier.

After Winnie died, Missy found PanCAN and saw that PanCAN PurpleStride was happening in their town. She told her family that they should form a team and participate.

Kara said, “That first year, so many people wanted to do something…be part of something big. A lot of people came out who weren’t part of our family and some who didn’t even know my mother. Since then, we have been walking fast.

The sisters are members of the PanCAN PurpleStride Grand Club, raising over $1,000 individually for PanCAN. Winnie’s Walkers, led by Marcie, raised over $6,700 this year.

Raising awareness and fundraising helps keep Winnie’s legacy alive.

“It is comforting for us to participate in PanCAN. It’s a way of celebrating our mother who heals us,” Kara said. “And if she was alive, she would do that too. A friend of mine donated $100 this year and said, “It’s for a woman I wish I had known.”

why we walk

Missy, Kara and Marcie at PanCAN PurpleLight in memory of their mother, Winnie, who died of pancreatic cancer

Left to right, Missy, Kara and Marcie at PanCAN PurpleLight.

On April 30, 60 PanCAN PurpleStride events took place across the country. It was the first time since 2019 that PurpleStride was in person.

“We’re moving forward so no one else has to go through what we did,” Kara said. “Tears come to PurpleStride, but it’s not all sad tears. Yes, it’s heartbreaking how much I miss my mother and how many people are affected by this horrible disease. But at PurpleStride, you see that you don’t. You’re not alone, that you can channel your energy and do something to make a difference.

“As my mother always said, if we can help just one person in life, it’s not in vain.”

Kara, Debbie, Missy and Marcie get creative with the PurpleStride fundraiser. Missy bakes treats and takes advantage of holidays like Valentine’s Day to make and sell delicious cake pops, chocolate covered Oreos and chocolate caramel pretzel sticks. This year, she raised over $1,000 in the process. They also held community wine tastings, raffles and local in-store partnerships.

For World Pancreatic Cancer Day every November, they remind everyone they know to wear purple and post on social media. Many do donations at PanCAN. The family also participates in PanCAN PurpleLight, an annual event to honor and remember those affected by the disease.

“When people see the survival rate going up and how excited we are about it, it makes them want to support us,” Kara said.

“It makes me feel better that what we’re doing for this cause proves that Mom’s work on Earth isn’t done – that we can continue to impact people through the kind of work she loved. “

On important occasions, like Winnie’s birthday or the anniversary of her death, they treat themselves to one of her favorites – hot fudge sundaes. They take a day off every November 4, lay flowers on her grave, and remember her with a dance at the cemetery.

“We want to keep his traditions alive – they’re part of his heritage,” Missy said.

The close family bond is also part of his legacy. As adults, the Freeman children accompanied their parents to Friday movie nights and Georgetown University men’s basketball games. Winnie taught her children to love each other and always be there for each other.

They are.

Old and new traditions

In 2013, as the first Mother’s Day approached after Winnie’s death, her daughters wanted to pretend the day wasn’t happening. Even the sight of Mother’s Day cards in stores was too much. How best to celebrate her in this new world without her, they wondered.

Then, inspired by their mother’s love of travel — “she was always up for a trip and she especially loved the beach,” Debbie said — they decided to take a trip to the beach for the weekend.

They shopped, ate delicious food, laughed, cried and remembered. They shared stories of their annual mother/daughter Christmas trips with Winnie to New York to see the Rockettes and Broadway musicals.

They played her favorite Jay-Z and Alicia Keys songs, and they danced.

This Mother’s Day, the sisters are spending the weekend at Debbie’s on the East Bank.

There may be Cheez Whiz on hand. In honor of an angel on earth.

Your life was a blessing, your memory a treasure. You are loved beyond words and missed beyond measure. We love you and miss you “a lot”. Your spirit of love and your legacy will live forever in each of us! love, family

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