Jim Freeman admits that he doesn’t jog so well anymore. He describes it as more of a wobble.
That’s why the former college track athlete was all smiles as he received a bike as one of his retirement gifts Monday at a retirement party at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.
“That will be a help for my knees,” he said.
Though the bike will come in handy, the gift that left Freeman stunned the most was a presentation of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest honor presented through the governor’s office to those who have demonstrated a lifetime of service to North Carolina.
“Unbelievable,” Freeman said, shaking his head.
Freeman is retiring after eight years as Havelock’s city manager but more than 30 years in public service. He said he didn’t start out to be a city manager but that he was glad his career choice worked out the way it did.
“I wanted to be a P.E. instructor,” Freeman said. “When I figured out my sophomore or junior year that I ain’t going to make money being a teacher, I decided to become a geographer and planner.”
The event featured a dinner in his honor as well as a slideshow presentation and various video clips from city staff, one of which jokingly talked about the elaborate vacations and cars Freeman had provided for them over the years.
Cindy Morgan presented a gift on behalf of the city staff, a gift that was purposely packaged with pink paper to represent the all-female staff.
“It’s hard to work in a building full of women,” she joked.
Joking aside, a number of those attending thanked Freeman for his work and dedication to Havelock.
“One of the best jobs I’ve done as a city commissioner in 10 years is hire Jim Freeman,” Havelock commissioner Danny Walsh said. “I hired him for two reasons: One is that he had a dog named Cisco, and anybody who knows us knows we like dogs, and the other was his ethics. He had stood up for one of his employees and lost his job, standing up for one of his employees, and I said that’s my kind of man.”
Commissioner George Liner thanked Freeman for helping him as a new board member.
“You’ve been a friend and a mentor, and I’m sorry to see you leave,” Liner told him. “You taught me a lot. I came in as a hot head, and you settled me down quite a bit.
“You have been great for this city and you’ve show us a lot about what can be done and how we can work together as an organization, so I thank you for that.”
Freeman made a point of thanking former Havelock mayor George Griffin, who was responsible for hiring him.
“You gave me a great opportunity, and if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be standing here today,” Freeman told him. “I really appreciate that.”
Freeman said he had many people to thank, including his wife Sheila and other family members who attended the retirement dinner.
He was credited with several city projects, such as upgrades to the water plant, construction of the West End Fire Station and the 9/11 Memorial, purchases of fire trucks and ambulances and improvements to the sewer plant.
He said while the list of accomplishments during his tenure as city manager is great, those accomplishments were not his.
“There’s so many people that I have to thank,” he said. “It’s not just Jim Freeman. It’s the organization and the people we have in the community that has made it successful the past few years. ... Those people on the front lines, they have made the city great, and it’s been a pleasure to work with them.”