Legendary architect, activist Phil Freelon remembered in celebration of life service

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Family, friends, and members of the public gathered in Durham Saturday afternoon to celebrate the life of Phil Freelon.

Freelon, a famed architect and activist, passed away in July after battling ALS.

Best known for his work on the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Freelon and his company, The Freelon Group, played a major role in local architecture. The Freelon Group merged with global firm Perkins and Will.

Some of his other works include the Durham Transportation Center, three public library branches, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and four buildings on the campus of North Carolina Central University.

On Saturday, the focus was on his personal side.

"I'm grateful for that I have with him. As he was lover and friend, supporter - incredible partner for over 40 years," said his wife Nnenna, a Grammy-nominated Jazz performer who delivered a performance in his honor.

Freelon's son Deen discussed his father's love of music.

"I think what I'll remember most is his love of 80s and 90s one-hit wonders. And all these songs remind me of him to this day. These include, but are not limited to - 'Word Up,' by Cameo," said Deen, drawing laughs from the crowd.

On a more serious note, he discussed his father's impact on him.

"He was an exemplary father. Showed me how to be a father," said Deen.

Outside the service, there was overflow seating in the courtyard where members of the public watched the service streamed through a monitor.

"I had to be here, the person that he was, how he extended himself to me, I know he did it for other people. And the mark that he's left on this world. and he was just a very wonderful warm person, great disposition. And I don't think he met any strangers," explained Robert Douglas.

Governor Roy Cooper recorded a video tribute, and declared the day Phil Freelon Appreciation Day.

"Phil lives on through the iconic places he helped create," said Cooper.

In lieu of flowers, the Freelon family requested donations be made towards NorthStar Church of the Arts.
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