Chatting with Mary Anne Freeman, arts philanthropist and now children’s book author

Those who have attended theater at any number of theaters in Birmingham are probably familiar with Mike and Mary Anne Freeman, two of the city’s most ardent arts supporters. They’ve supported performances at Samford University, UAB and the Birmingham Music Club, to name a few.

Now, thanks to the inspiring story of their dachshund, Oliver, Mary Anne Freeman is a children’s book author.

Here, she talks about philanthropy and what led to her writing “Let’s Roll, Oliver!”

Can you tell me about yourself? Where are you from? Where did your love of the arts come from?

I’m from Vestavia Hills and graduated from the University of Montevallo.

My love of the arts came from hubby, Mike.  Our first date was to see a play at Samford University, Aristophanes’ “The Birds.”  Mike figured if I could handle a play about Greek politics, we had a good chance of enjoying dating.  I loved it, and it became the springboard for many theater, dance, symphony, opera, concerts and visual arts experiences.  Now we’d rather be in a theater or concert hall than watching TV.

Mike and Mary Anne Freeman.

Can you tell me about the support you and your husband have given the arts in Birmingham?

We’ve been arts supporters/donors around town for many years and mostly advocate educational endeavors.  For 14 years we’ve sponsored at Samford University the Michael J. and Mary Anne Freeman Theatre and Dance Series.  We’re supporters at UAB Department of Theatre, Red Mountain Theatre, Virginia Samford Theatre, Homewood Theatre, Opera Birmingham and the Birmingham Music Club.  We’ve sponsored ASL interpretation at RMTC, OB, BMC and Birmingham Children’s Theatre and have served on various arts boards around town through the years. 

In 2010, we were honored to receive from the Birmingham Area Theatre Alliance an award for “Outstanding Service to the Theatre Community”. 

In 2011, Michael Huebner published a nice article in The Birmingham News about our mission in giving, which is to set an example for others in supporting the Arts.  Giving a little and showing up can make a big impact.

Also in 2011, we received an award from then Shades Valley Theatre Academy for sponsorship and support of educational theater, which we enjoyed doing for about five years.

Tell me about how and why you became an author?

My dear friend, Patty McDonald, and I shared dog stories with each other over many years.  As she learned about Oliver, she encouraged me to write a story for children about him.  She knew it would inspire children.  The  seed was planted and grew into a reality.  I never dreamed about becoming an author!

Can you tell me about “Let’s Roll, Oliver!”?

This is a true story about our long-haired dachshund, Oliver, who lived 10 of his 15 years in a doggie wheelchair.  At 5 years old, he ruptured a disc in his back, resulting in spinal cord damage and no use of his back legs.  We were hopeful that rehab would bring feeling back again, but that didn’t happen. 

We had him measured for a doggie wheelchair and when it arrived it fit him perfectly.  He took off running around the vet’s office – he was so excited to be mobile again.  He was even smiling!  From then on, he didn’t let his wheels slow him down from enjoying life.  He’d run over anything or anyone who got in his way, even his cat or his people.  Oliver made his unexpected experience funny as Mike and I adapted to his new way of getting around.

Oliver had such an amazing attitude and inspired his people.  He showed us that when life gets you down, you can keep your head up, smile and keep going. 

Tell me a bit about your illustrator.

Memory Smith is a local graphic design artist, freelance designer and illustrator.  She is art director for a local nonprofit company.   Our friendship began during her undergrad years at Samford University, and when I asked if she’d consider illustrating my story, she immediately said yes!  Memory did an amazing job bringing my words to life.  

Who is this book geared toward, and what do you hope they’ll get from reading it?

My target age group is 4-8, but adults have found it amusing and fun as well.  This story teaches the values of uniqueness, kindness and respect along with enlightening children about disabilities.  I’ve had the joy of sharing Oliver’s story at schools, libraries and organizations around town, including schools with special needs students.

Is this a one-shot deal, or are there more books in your future?

Ha, I’ve learned to never say never.  I guess time will tell.

For more about “Let’s Roll, Oliver!”, including where it is available, go to Mary Anne Freeman’s website.

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