Lisa Ann Freeman

Lisa Ann Freeman of Peterborough, a beloved Waldorf kindergarten teacher, riding instructor, and camp leader, died on October 16 surrounded by her family at the Community Hospice House of Merrimack. She was 61.

For the hundreds of children over the last thirty years who were fortunate enough to have “Miss Lisa” as their teacher, kindergarten was more than an introduction to the routines and rigors of school. It was a magical world of stories and songs, daily chores, shared meals, invented games and exuberant outdoor adventures.

Lisa saw early childhood as a precious, carefree time to be honored and protected. Her enchanting rose-colored classroom and the magical outdoor spaces she created were thoughtfully designed educational environments, but they were also safe places where young souls could unfurl and blossom, where each child’s unique gifts were recognized and nurtured, where disputes were transformed into opportunities to practice forgiveness, and where an abiding love of nature and animals often became touchstones upon which entire adult lives were built.

A native of Merrick, Long Island, Lisa became interested in Waldorf education as a teenager following in her older sister’s footsteps. After attending the University of New Mexico and SUNY at Delhi, her aspirations to teach young children led her to complete her foundation studies in anthroposophy at Emerson College in England. Returning to the United States, she worked as a kindergarten assistant at the Pine Hill School in Wilton, NH, from 1988 through 1993 and simultaneously completed her Masters degree at Antioch New England.

From 1993 through 2002, Lisa taught kindergarten at the Lexington Waldorf School in Lexington, Massachusetts. In 2002, she returned to New Hampshire to teach at Pine Hill, where she continued to refine and implement her vision for “outdoor kindergarten,” a concept she wrote about and began to share with fellow early-childhood teachers across the country.

A devoted mother to three sons, Lisa was known for her ability to find positive outlets for rambunctious youthful energy. “My mom was always our strongest advocate,” recalls Dylan McDuffee, 33. “She supported us through our many mishaps and endeavors, trekking up cold mountains to stand on the sidelines for ski races, cheering us on through countless athletic events, and attending every back-to-school night.”

The delight Lisa found in nature was imparted to her students, along with reverence for all living things. Long after they had left the halcyon world of pre-school behind, alumnae of the Rose Kindergarten in Lexington and the Bluebell Cottage at Pine Hill would still speak wistfully of the sacred spots where they had once played with friends: Gnome Valley, the Golden Woods, the Dragon Tree, the place by the rock wall where the cow bones were buried, the walk to the orchard, the path to the pond.

Lisa had just accepted a new teaching position at the Monadnock Waldorf School in Keene when she was diagnosed in the summer of 2014 with an inoperable brain tumor known as glioblastoma. It was not the first time she had been faced with devastating news.

In March 2002, her oldest son Morgan William McDuffee, 22, was tragically killed while trying to break up a fight near the Bates campus in Lewiston, Maine. Morgan’s death intensified Lisa’s commitment to helping others, even as she struggled with her own grief and tried to remain strong for her two surviving sons.

In the years that followed, Lisa reached out to other parents who suffered the loss of children. Recalls Dawn Zibolis-Sekella of Wilton, “When my daughter died, Lisa came right to me. We looked into each other’s eyes. There was no need for words. At the time she was my only friend who had lost a child, and she held out her hand and helped me navigate through a very dark time. None of us has an outline for grief, but Lisa knew what I needed and she took care of me. She helped me to see there could be joy again, and that it was possible to step back into life.”

In the months before her death, Lisa continued to enjoy time with family and friends, dancing at her son’s wedding, attending family reunions, going to the beach, hosting impromptu dinners, swimming at Cunningham Pond, riding her beloved horse Bridget, and relaxing on the deck with her husband Kerby Elliott. When she felt well, she worked in the garden; when she didn’t she found solace in the beauty of a single flower. “I have become very good friends with this petunia,” she said on one occasion, turning a quiet day into an opportunity to pay attention.

She will be remembered for her musical, ever-ready laugh, her willingness to step forward in the face of injustice, her kindness to all, her lifelong passion for horses and her love of children and animals, her marathon swims, her knack for finding heart rocks, and her unfailing grace and courage in the face of profound tragedy.

Lisa Freeman is survived by her husband, Kerby Elliott, of Peterborough, and her sons, Brendan Thomas McDuffee, 30, of Boston, MA, and Dylan John McDuffee, 33, of Manhattan, and his wife Joanna Leathers; and two stepsons, Ives Porter-Elliott, 26, of Waltham, MA, and Max Porter-Elliott, 31, of Glen Ellen, CA. Other survivors include her mother Jane Barbara Allen and her step-father Hoyt Allen of The Villages, Florida; a brother, William Raymond Freeman III of Little Compton, RI; a sister and brother-in-law, Laura Jane and Mark Birdsall of Erwinna, PA. She also leaves her first husband, Regis McDuffee, of Newburyport, MA, and five beloved nieces: Carly Freeman, McKenzie Freeman, Annalisa Birdsall, Catherine Birdsall, and Rachel Birdsall. She is pre-deceased by her father, William Raymond Freeman, Jr. and her son Morgan William McDuffee. Lisa was looking forward to the birth of her first grandchild in January.

In Lisa’s memory, and in lieu of flowers, her sons request that those who loved her extend a generous hand to someone in need, carrying forward a bit of the kindness and compassion that Lisa offered to all who crossed her path.