By Camm Ashford
Chattanooga native Darrell S. Freeman Sr., a self-made millionaire, renown business leader, mentor, and philanthropist, died Tuesday at his home in Brentwood, Tenn. He was 57.
“Our beloved father and husband suffered from a serious illness that he succumbed to on the evening of June 28, 2022, the family said. As we navigate this unknown territory and difficult time, we ask for your prayers and privacy.”
Freeman is survived by his wife, Gloria, and their four children
Freeman’s dad was a foundry worker who poured iron for 38 years, and his mom worked as a maid. They rented half a duplex in Orchard Knob, one of Chattanooga’s historically Black working-class neighborhoods. His grandmother lived in the duplex behind him. At 15, he studied electronics and learned to fix TVs and radios at Kirkman Technical High School, where thousands of teens from Chattanooga’s urban neighborhoods went to learn trades leading to living-wage jobs.
The first in his family to go to college, Freeman built tech company Zycron Inc. into a successful enterprise with 300-plus employees that generated $40 million a year or more in receipts. Zycron provided employees who help large corporate and government clients — such as hospital chain HCA, the Tennessee Valley Authority and Nashville Electric Service — with implementing their information technology plans.
He sold Zycron in 2017 for more than $20 million.
Freeman used money from the sale of Zycron to help others start their businesses, including the three Tennessee State University roommates who launched Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria which started on Nashville’s Buchanan Street and now has 10 locations in four states.
“The wisdom, exposure, knowledge and resources that Darrell shared with us are immeasurable and have made an incredible impact on our personal and professional growth. We love you, OG! You were a fierce leader and more than a partner to us. You were our friend, and you will be missed,” Slim & Husky’s owners said in a statement.
In 2018, Freeman founded Cockpit Conversations, a series of interviews hosted by Freeman, at an altitude of 25,000+ feet where he believes the sky is not the limit! During the interviews, Freeman and his guests discuss topics such as leadership, entrepreneurship, business principles, community service, goal setting and philanthropy. His goal was to motivate viewers to aim high and inspire them to pursue their dreams with passion and confidence. He wanted viewers to hear messages of hope, inspiration, and wisdom from a diverse collection of individuals.
The videos can be viewed on Freeman’s YouTube channel
Freeman often came back to Chattanooga to create opportunity for others and tell them his story. In 2020, he presented the Bessie Smith Cultural Center with a check for $25,000. The donation went toward digital upgrades at the Center.
Freeman began serving on the BlueCross Board of Directors in 2020, and he brought his unique perspective and passion to the role.
“Darrell left an indelible mark on Tennessee through his innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, along with his dedication to service,” said JD Hickey, M.D., president and CEO of BlueCross. “All of us at BlueCross are heartbroken by this loss, and our thoughts are with his loved ones.”
A graduate and board member of Middle Tennessee State University, Freeman was known for his commitment to education. He donated more than $100,000 to MTSU for programs to help first-generation college students and hosted free ladies’ lunches to advise and guide women entrepreneurs from around the country.
Freeman was a past chairman of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce board and a member of the board of Middle Tennessee State University. Freeman was selected by the Tennessee Tribune as our Man of the Year for 2021.
Freeman also served as chairman of the civic group 100 Black Men, and was a member of the Nashville Chapter Chamber of Commerce, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. and the Nashville Downtown Rotary. He was an avid golfer and was a member of the Governors Club of Tennessee. He enjoyed flying and received his Private Pilot Certificate in 2000.
In recent published remarks, Freeman said, “I spent the majority of my life getting money. I want to spend the majority of the rest of my life giving. I want to use my voice, my reputation, my resources to find people and help them become better.”
Remembering My Friend: “Darrell Freeman was a dear friend and business associate, more like my third son. He had a brilliant business mind and the unique ability to know when he didn’t know or understand a subject. He continuously surrounded himself with mentors and absorbed every ounce of knowledge that he could which contributed to his success in life. Darrell clearly made a difference with his life by giving back and paying it forward. A life well lived and gone too soon; he went where there was no path and left a trail for others to follow. I am going to miss him dearly”, wrote Frank Alford, TVA Retired.
Freeman’s funeral is set for 1 p.m. on July 7 at Olive Branch Church, 938 Havenhill Dr. in Nashville, with a viewing at noon. His Omega Psi Phi Memorial and Boule’ Service begins at 12:30 p.m., on the same day, and at the same location.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests for donations to be made to: Chi Boule Foundation: www.chiboulefoundation.org/DarrellFreeman.(Tennessee Tribune & Main Street Nashville contributed to this story.)