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Brother Gerald Freeney leads 2019 Tournament of Roses

posted Feb 28, 2011, 6:26 PM by Derrick Harris   [ updated Mar 19, 2011, 4:29 AM by Ed Sanders ]
[Brother] Gerald Freeny says he doesn't really see himself as a pioneer, or a trail-blazer, but in 2019 he will make history as the first African-American president of the Tournament of Roses Association.

"First, I have to say it's an honor," said Freeny, who joined the tournament in 1988 and was just elected to the 14-member executive committee.

"So few get to do this. But we are a family here, and I always preach it takes a team working together to put on the best parade and the best best football game in the world on one big day."

Freeny, who will lead the 130th Rose Parade and 105th Rose Bowl Game, said he's a little ambivalent about being in the spotlight as first black president.

"It's good to be the first, to make history, but I don't want to take anything away from (President Richard Jackson) - this is his year, his parade," Freeny said.

In his 23 years at the Tournament of Roses, Freeny has worked his way up the committee ranks, most recently as the chairman of parade operations.

"It's very important that you have the respect of your peers, and that they've seen the work done on the committees you've been on, seen you in leadership roles, seen what you can do," he said. "That's a big plus, and let's face it, not everyone gets the opportunity to get on the executive committee."

The 900-plus member tournament has changed since he was brought in by two sponsoring members, Freeny said. One was African American and one white - Bob Cheney, the 1992 president, who knew Freeny as a student working his way through college at his company.

"I can say for the most part I never had any problems here," Freeny said. "I tried to work with everybody ... and the two people who sponsored me gave me good support."
Freeny said he wasn't the first African American to join the Tournament of Roses, although there weren't many at the time. But he found his positive attitude and being a "people person" made him part of the family.

Jackson called Freeny's election "a milestone," but said it was his level of commitment and willingness to serve that stood out over his decades of volunteering.

"It was much the same way I came up," he said. "That's how you get to become the future president of the organization."

That "typical path to leadership" is long and arduous, and everyone pays their dues, Jackson said. "That's why it takes so long."

The diversity in the 123-year-old Tournament of Rose has developed naturally, mirroring the Pasadena community, Jackson said. Libby Evans Wright became the first woman president in 2006, and Sally Bixby will take the role in 2013, to be followed later by the first Asian American, Richard L. Chinen.

"We made a concerted effort to be responsive (to calls for diversity), but at the same time be true to the meritocracy," Jackson said. "I think you're going to see it in the next few years. This isn't something that's happening in the moment. This is our future."

Freeny, a graduate of John Muir High School and Cal State L.A., works in law enforcement and has been involved in such organizations as Pasadena Alumni Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, the Pasadena Police Foundation board, Pasadena Police Citizens Academy, the Rose Bowl Aquatics board, University Club, Pasadena YMCA board, Black Support Group at Cal State L.A., the Urban League Board of Governors, United Way Fundraising Committee, and the Pasadena NAACP.

Joe Brown, president of the Pasadena NAACP, said Freeny's election shows the Tournament of Roses has become more welcoming to all minorities.

"At this point I'm not overly surprised, but I'm delighted," Brown said. "It's a great thing for African Americans, women and minorities in general, seeing that glass ceiling broken. This is for future generations to look and say, `I can do this."'

By 2019, Freeny said he plans to be retired, and he and his family will have the time to deal with the demands of the presidency.

"I guess what I'm looking forward to is going down the parade route," said Freeny. "A native Pasadenan, seeing my high school buddies, my college buddies, people from the community, saying one of us Pasadenans made it here."

From The Pasadena Star-News, February 24, 2011.