ROB FREEMAN, RIP
21st March 2020 | James Cove, PlanetSKI Editor
Last modified on March 24th, 2020
One of the legends of ski journalism and Fleet Street has died. Our editor, James Cove, pays his own personal tribute.
You’ve probably never heard of Rob Freeman.
But that is only because you were not fortunate enough to have had the pleasure to meet him and ski with him.
To anyone that had done either he was, quite simply, unforgettable.
A legend of the European ski world.
I leave it to others to tell of his days in Fleet Street on the Daily Mail where he rose through the ranks to become the paper’s long-serving chief sub-editor.
I leave it to others to share his articles for all the major ski magazines, newspapers and, more recently, web sites and social media platforms.
I leave it to others to talk about all his many achievements in journalism, his books on skiing and his fanatical following of Watford FC.
“Come on Covey, keep up” was the phrase he most often used to me.
Whether out on the slopes or drinking beer and dancing on tables in some random Austrian apres ski venue, but usually in Ischgl in the Tirol.
Another was “Fancy a Little Willy?”
When I heard the news on Saturday morning that he has passed away, I simply couldn’t believe it.
I read the message again. And again.
Rob was a force of nature, it couldn’t be true.
He was indestructible.
He was the life and soul of any ski group with his wicked sense of humour, telling jibes and always with a naughty schoolboy twinkle in his eye.
He loved making mischief, but never at anyone’s expense except his own.
His knowledge of skiing knew no bounds and we spent hours debating the good points and bad points of any resort you care to mention.
Mostly we agreed and sometimes we didn’t.
I wrote an article for a Canadian magazine a few years back sending up the ski press trip.
He didn’t like the article and told me so.
We exchanged our different viewpoints and then moved on.
There was, after all, some skiing and apres ski to be done.
We locked horns a few times on politics, but it was always good natured.
His stories of the good old days in Fleet Street were legendary – the long lunches, the scoops, the journalistic assassinations of politicians and celebrities when the paper thought ‘they deserved a good kicking’.
I have heard his stories many times over the years as he told them around the chalet dinner table to new friends and fellow writers.
He never exaggerated or embellished the stories, as facts to him were sacrosanct.
He just told them in different ways to the numerous younger writers who hung on his every word.
I often told him that as a former chief-sub editor for a national newspaper he really should sub-edit his dull stories over dinner.
He usually winked at me, topped up his glass and then added to them even more, finding yet more anecdotes and descriptive phrases.
He was a qualified ski instructor and, in groups, I could see him looking out for the slower ones, offering little words of encouragement and tips, while ensuring people were happy and safe.
He was kind, considerate and caring.
He skied with no ego, just a love of the mountains and the people he met.
I happen to love the ski resorts of Austria with a passion, but my interest and knowledge pales into utter insignificance compared with his.
Now is perhaps not the time to tell of how he got banned from driving in Austria.
But it is, as Rob would say, ‘a good story’.
I shall refrain from telling you about his good friend Seaman Staines whom he spoke about often.
As I write these words I cannot believe that Rob is no longer with us.
On chairlifts I would ask him about football (a subject I know nothing about) and off he would go predicting the weekend scores, analysing some match or other and usually ending up talking about his beloved Watford as I quietly nodded off to sleep.
‘Has Watford ever won anything?” I would ask. “A cup perhaps?”
“Not yet, dear boy, but it’s coming.”
Our other favourite conversation was family.
He talked endlessly about his boys, Mark and Ross, and how proud he was of them.
He was utterly devoted to his wife, Sue, and my thoughts and love are with them at this terrible moment.
He knew and skied with many of the great Austrian ski racers.
“Franz was the best, his Olympic gold in Innsbruck in 1976 will never be surpassed.”
Franz Klammer and Rob went on to become firm friends.
I last skied with Rob in November at the opening of Val Thorens.
There was a large gaggle of journalists on the trip and we all had to check out of our rooms by 11am ahead of a transfer after lunch.
“Leave your bags here and you can all shower and change in the ski room after skiing,” we were told.
Suffice to say everyone else in the group did that.
As we got on the bus later I asked Rob if he’d secured a special late check-out from his room.
I knew what the answer would be.
“Of course, I know the hotel manageress well and I saw you chatting her up this morning too.”
Needless to say we both had our separate private rooms to shower and change in, as the rest of the group crowded out the boot room.
Lately he developed a passion for the Dolomites in Italy and Val Gardena in particular.
Last winter we skied the area together and, after we’d hurtled down the World Cup course as our final run of the trip, he turned to me at the bottom.
“Whenever I ski that run I feel the ghosts of all the great skiers that have given it their all in one of the classic races. I am honoured every time to follow in their tracks, albeit a little bit slower.
“Right let’s go and have a beer or two, I know a great little bar just round the corner.
“Come on Covey, keep up. Fancy a Little Willy too?”