ST. PETERSBURG — At the age of 66 most people are ready to retire.
Former St. Petersburg Mayor Corinne Freeman, instead, launched a new career as a financial advisor, a job she continued full-time for another 21 years.
That energy was typical of the Brooklyn native, one of several women who blazed a trail into Florida's male-dominated political scene in the 1970s, serving for eight years as the city's first female mayor and another 10 years on the Pinellas County School Board.
Freeman, died Sunday after a battle against cancer. She was 87.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Monday that flags at City Hall will fly at half-staff all week to honor Freeman.
“I know the citizens of St. Petersburg join me in mourning the passing of Mayor Corinne Freeman, an important leader in the history of this city, our first and only female mayor,” he said in a statement. “All employees of the city join me and my family in offering our condolences to the family of Mayor Freeman in this difficult time.”
Freeman's interest in politics was reinforced through her involvement in the League of Woman Voters, first in Massachusetts and then in St. Petersburg after she moved to the city in 1968. The St. Petersburg chapter also included Jeanne Malchon, who would go onto be elected as a state senator. Across the Bay in the Tampa chapter, friend Betty Castor became the first female county commissioner in Hillsborough County before serving as a state senator.
“We had to recognize where we were coming from and this is a part of the South,” Castor said. “We had to be rather proper and reserved in out demeanor and Corinne was all of those things.
Freeman was elected in 1977, running for office not to break the gender barrier but because she thought she could do a good job, said son, Steve Freeman.
“She was a ground breaker in terms of being a female Jewish mayor in the south,” Freeman said. “She just saw no reason that she couldn't be mayor.”
Her time in office was before the city adopted the strong mayor form of government. Nonetheless, Freeman made a significant contribution advocating for stronger protection of the city's waterfront from development, the purchase of the Edgewater Hotel and expansion of the original Dali Museum, said Sally Wallace, who served on city council when Freeman was mayor.
A baseball fanatic, Freeman was a major force behind the city's decision to use taxpayer dollars to build the Florida Suncoast Dome, now known as Tropicana Field, even before the city had secured a Major League Baseball franchise.
“She felt it would help the whole city in developing,” Wallace said. “The object was to increase the tax base, but preserving the environment was a big priority.”
As mayor, Freeman was strong willed and outspoken but also capable of building consensus, said long-time friend Mary Wyatt Allen.
“She was afraid of helicopters, but still went up to check out the city when that was necessary,” Allen said. “She loved St. Petersburg; she boosted the city in every way that she could.”
Born in 1926, Freeman studied nursing at Adelphi University before working as a registered nurse with the Army Cadet Corp. She married husband, Michael Freeman, in 1947.
She stopped working to raise her two sons at first in Marblehead, Mass., and then in St. Petersburg.
“She's seen as very forthright, candid and hardworking businesswoman,” Steve Freeman, a St. Petersburg attorney, said. “As a mother, she was not pushy at all. She let me pursue the path I wanted – very low key but very supportive.”
Freeman was also a season ticket holder at the Florida Orchestra and the Tampa Bay Rays, where she sat behind home plate.
She is survived by two sons, Steve and Michael, five grandchildren and four great grandchildren with a fifth on the way, and her brother Henry Hirschfeld.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Pinellas Education Foundation (pinellaseducation.org) or St. Anthony's Hospital Foundation For the Greater Good (community.stanthonysfoundation.org / please specify For the Greater Good fund)
A memorial and celebration of Freeman's life is planned at The Club at Treasure Island, May 24, at time to be determined.