A True Pioneer
Note: This is formatted a little differently from the usual CTMQ&A, but that’s because it predated that more structured idea. Regardless, enjoy!
I read a lot of magazines (and newspapers and online stuff and you get the point). And I actually read the UCONN Alumni magazine thing we all get. Not only that, I like to peruse the little blurbs in the back wherein they publish a bunch of little alumni accomplishments.
So there I was, and I won’t tell you where I was sitting or what I was doing exactly, ahem, but I read the following:
Rohan Freeman ’95 (ENG) became the first African-American to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks of the seven continents, this past October. He is the founder and principal of civil engineering firm Freeman Cos. in Hartford, Conn.
Wow. Why isn’t this guy a household name? In my mind, he should be.
The Seven Summits are the highest points on each of the seven continents. These are: Kilimanjaro (Africa), Vinson Massif (Antarctica), Kosciuszko (Australia), Everest (Asia), Elbrus (Europe), Denali (North America) and Aconcagua (South America). As with all such lists, there is some disagreement about Kosciuszko and Elbrus. This list is called the Bass List and its the one Rohan completed. The other Seven Summits list is the Messner List, and it includes Mont Blanc instead of Elbrus (on the Europe/Asia border) and the Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia because some wackadoos consider it Australia. More on this here.
I reached out to my ’96 ENG Hartford area friend Rich Twilley and asked if he knew Rohan. He did! (Smart guys stick together.) A few emails later and I had a lunch planned with Rohan and Twilley at Vito’s On The Park in Hartford. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad excited.
I should note that Rohan spent some time reading CTMQ and told me on two different occasions that he really enjoyed my (and my wife’s) goal of reading the Top 100 Modern Library Novels of the 20th Century. Be still my heart.
I did my research on the man. Rohan was born and raised in Jamaica and immigrated to the United States to attend the University of Connecticut to study civil engineering. He later became dually licensed as a professional engineer and land surveyor. My man owns and runs Freeman Companies, which provides a diverse range of services in the areas of civil engineering, land surveying and environmental sciences.
You can read all about his impressive academic and business accomplishments here.
I love hiking and I love lists. Rohan takes both to new heights… Man, I hate bad puns like that when people who don’t know me think I think they are clever… I love hiking and I love lists. Rohan has taken both to the extreme. I was fascinated to learn that he had never done “real” hiking until the early 00’s when some friends took him up to the White Mountains. 15 years later, he was on top of freaking Mt. Everest.
All that, and he still had the suffer the indignity of Al Terzi asking him if he saw the Yeti. No, I’m not kidding. (video)
Not only is Rohan a pioneer among the tiny fraternity of Seven Summiters, he is a CTMQ pioneer; he being the first person to submit to the CTMQ Interview. And for that, he is a true hero.
Let’s get to it.
Nice blurry picture, Twill
Q. In which town do you currently live?
Q. How did you come to live in Connecticut?
Good question! I grew up in Jamaica and my mom got married and moved to CT. I followed her here after finishing high school and went to UCONN.
Q. How long do you foresee yourself staying in Connecticut?
Hmmm… for the foreseeable future, however long that is. I have no plans to move currently; however, you never know what life may bring.
Q. What do you like most about Connecticut?
It location to Boston and New York because I can get good flights to anywhere in the world and I love to explore those Cities as well. It also is a great state for outdoor activities with reasonable proximity to The White Mountains, Adirondacks, Vermont, Skiing, etc.. And of course, my friends and family.
Q. What do you dislike most about Connecticut?
It’s somewhat parochial and I sometimes wished that more people here would have a global view point or understanding of the world.
Q. Without cheating, how many of the following 10 are names of Connecticut’s 169 towns: Sterling, Sprague, Millerton, Voluntown, Warren, Farmingbury, Easton, Lisbon, Franklin, Sherman
I love this question, but I’m probably not the perfect candidate for this question, because I get around quite a bit, so it’s fun to test my knowledge. Here goes Sterling, Voluntown, Easton, Lisbon, Franklin and Sherman. I’m also thinking that Sprague could be, but I won’t bite on it. My list stands.
Correct answer: Sterling, Sprague, Voluntown, Warren, Easton, Lisbon, Franklin, Sherman
Q. What is/are your favorite restaurant(s) in Connecticut?
Max Fish in Glastonbury and Vito’s by the Park in Hartford.
Q. What is the most interesting museum in Connecticut you’ve ever been to, if any at all?
Surprisingly, I’ve actually been to a few because I love history and museums. I’m going to say Wadsworth Atheneum.
Q. What is one your favorite local/Connecticut factoids?
That CT has the highest income per Capita. Fairfield county has severely distorted this factoid!
Q.. Where is one of your favorite places to go hiking/walking in CT?
Giuffrida Park in Meriden is my favorite for a quick 1-2 hour hike when I limited time. It has great views, a short, steep and challenging section; pretty much a lot packed into a short hike. When I have more time I go to Bear Mountain in Salisbury.
Here’s a little kid interviewing Rohan. I should have taken notes.
Q. You own your own Hartford-based firm. What are your thoughts regarding the current business climate in our fine capital city?
Hartford is making strides in the right directions, but still needs to do more. My personal feeling is that more needs to be done in to facilitate small, women and minority own businesses. Overall, I think that business is trending up.
Q. Colder: February 8 AM classes across UCONN’s campus in 50 mph – er, 80.47 kph – winds – or summiting Denali?
Ha… Although I froze my butt of on Denali, I’ll give the nod to those crazy cold UCONN days. I still have bad memories from walking across campus to get to class and have to duck into the student union building to warm up, even though my destination, the engineering building, was only another 3 minutes away.
Q. Speaking of kph… You’re an engineer and rely on precise measurements to perfom your job. What are your feelings on the 4 decades-long metrification programme in your native Jamaica?
BTW, the metrification program is worldwide and the US is the one of a few places where it is not used. Needless to say, I wish we would just bite the bullet and change, instead of taking the easy way out. I grew up in Jamaica during the transition, so I learned both systems. I know this is not a direct answer, but it demonstrates my feeling.
Q. Let’s be honest – is there any point to ever listening to reggae beyond the Bob Marley classics? If yes, defend your position.
ABSOLUTELY!!! Bob Marley, my all time favorite artist, took reggae global. Reggae is a very expressive music, and although the popular songs that make it on the radio may not demonstrate that, you can find really good stuff without trying too hard. A lot of reggae, not to be confused with the dance hall music that has taken over the island, tells the story/plight of the people, but also gives praises to the deserving. That said, I don’t really listen to too much of the new stuff, but that’s probably because I’m stuck in my ways. I still love Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff and the likes.
Q. UCONN’s star soccer goalie, Andrew Blake, is from Jamaica and he’s nasty. Do you get a chance to see any UCONN soccer? If so, with your influence as the first black guy to climb the Seven Summits, can you see about getting Ray Reid fired for underperforming every year in the playoffs?
Although I love soccer, I really don’t get a chance to watch much, especially since I don’t watch much TV. And I definitely don’t watch much UCONN soccer, but I follow in the background. With respect to Ray Reid, my people are reaching out to his people to let him know that he needs to do a better job, or else he’ll have to climb the seven summits!
Q. An anagram of Rohan Freeman is Forearm Henna. Do you know what henna is? Because you should now that you know this fact.
I’m clueless… I’ll look it up after I send this email. Is this a Gary Busey-ism?
Q. Part of your mission is to help the Boys and Girls Clubs and bringing the “great outdoors” to the attention of young minorities. Why do you think we so rarely see black people out hiking and pretty much never on the high peaks? What can we do, as CT residents with a love for hiking, to help change the situation?
My personal feeling is that most blacks live in major cities and don’t necessary identify with the outdoors or see the benefits of enjoying nature, especially when they are young. As adults making choices, they don’t see the outdoors as an option for stress release or recreation. Most people, not just blacks, put too much emphasis on creature comforts and modern conveniences. Another reason is that the black population tend to identify success with main stream sports. These are not scientifically proven reasons, just my opinion, so if you happen to read this and get offend please don’t email me any mean comments.
Q. Well, of course your guides on Kilimanjaro were Africans. When they saw you were they more confused or excited or nonplussed? And knowing a little bit about the climb and how methodical the pace is, even on the flatter lower slopes, did you just want to yell at them to move faster?
First, I never want to move faster, so I thoroughly enjoyed the pace of the climb. I wished more climbs were like this. The thing about Rohan in Africa is that sometimes I’m confused as African, which I find rather amusing and love it. I try to welcome it and buddy up to the locals, but once I open my mouth and they find out that I’m from the US it no different than being white!
Q. The worst thing to come out of Jamaica is: Callaloo, ganja stereotypes, the mean ladies who always serve me my Jamaican meat patties in Hartford or Sean Paul? Explain your choice.
Haha… You do know a lot about the culture, which is unusual. Callaloo is good for you and is considered by many an integral part of the national dish, so it’s not the obvious choice. Well, regarding the ganja stereotypes, your perception is your reality; hence, it’s very real. If you look at the current marijuana trends in the US then it’s only a matter of time before this stereotype become a nirvana, which is already is to many. I know what you mean about those Jamaican ladies, but I assume that you know that they are full of love and that’s just their front. Don’t mess with them though… Sean Paul is not that bad, but someone has to get the trophy for this contest, so he gets it. If he stayed true to the music then he would be high on this list. The moral of this story is never sell out! Ha…
Q. Irish Moss: Yes or No?
I used to drink it all the time. Not anymore, because I gave up gluten, dairy and wheat, so No!
At our lunch together, Rohan ordered a salad with grilled salmon on it. No dressing, no croutons, no cheese. He was in training for an Ironman or something. That’s how you do it, people.
Don’t know what Irish Moss is? Here’s an explanation. I’ve had it and it’s awful.
Q. You’re handsome bald man. When climbing the Seven Summits, did you wish you had a full head of knotty dreads to keep warm?
Thanks for the compliments. I climbed all the seven summits with a full head of hair, except for Carstenz Pyramid, so to answer your question directly – no! Ha, joke’s on you!
Q. So you climbed the Seven Summits – are you a Messner guy or a Bass guy? (Mount Kosciuszko or Carstensz Pyramid)? An Elbrus is in Asia or an Elbrus is in Europe guy? And if the former, and you climbed Mont Blanc, was the pre- and post-climb food better anywhere than in France/Italy? (If you didn’t do Blanc, where was the best food?) Do you get caught up in lists and the inherent difficulties in making such things definitive? I am. I’m sort of obsessed by it. If I complete my 50 state highpointing list, will you join me for Denali?
First things first, I’m definitely in for Denali when you’re ready, so I’ll be on you and your son to get the highpoints done! Get on it!!!
I’m a Bass guy through and through, but only because I paid attention in geography class in school. Carstenz Pyramid is in Asia, and I don’t care how close to Australia it is or on what tectonic plate it lies, it is in Asia. You can’t fool me. The “Seven Summits” is about climbing the high points on the traditional seven continents! Period! Done! No debate needed, unless of course you’re a mountaineering snob who’s looking to make the seven summits harder than it really is to eliminate the novice climbers due to the difficult factor of climbing Carstenz. I climbed it, so I can switch if I want and still claim the seven summits, but it’s not one of them.
I’m an Elbrus is in Europe guy, albeit right on the border. Until the world atlas’ are redefined along continental lines, I’ll stay true to the historic continental divides with all the flaws and exclusions, etc… Funny how mountaineering is highlighting the flaws and discrepancies of our geography of the world. Kinda like religion and politics. Enough said because I don’t want to open a can of worms.
I’ve not yet climbed Monc Blanc, but I’ll be doing it with a group of friends from around the world, along with the Eiger and the Matterhorn this fall and I’m very much looking forward to it, and of course the food of France, Austria and Switzerland!
The best post climb food, by far, was in Nepal post Everest! You heard it here.
Awesome questions! I really enjoyed answering them.
Cool, thanks. And for those of you who enjoy more traditional interviews, here you are: