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On Tuesday, October 3, after a life lived in service to God, Family, and Country, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Lazelle E. Free left this earthly plane to serve the Kingdom of Heaven. Lazelle was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on January 27, 1940 to Lee W. and Margaret M. Free, and later the family moved to Greensboro, NC, where he was raised as a lifelong member of Celia Phelps Memorial United Methodist Church. He graduated from James B. Dudley High School in 1957, and received his BA degree from West Virginia State University (then College) in 1961, where God called him to serve his community as a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and to serve his country in the United States Army. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.
Lt. Col. Free served twenty years in the United States Army, completing two tours of duty in the Republic of Vietnam in 1964 and 1969. When he was wounded in Vietnam in 1966, he said that he could feel the prayers of his family, and that his faith in that moment - “like a breath of fresh air,” as he once said - carried him back home. During his time stateside, he taught ROTC at Hampton University and met and married his first wife, the late Doris Morse Free in 1965. In 1969, he returned to Vietnam. His active duty assignments included Tank Platoon Leader, Company Commander and Chief Minority Recruiting Officer. “The Colonel,” as his family called him, earned wide-ranging military honors that include two awards of the Bronze Medal for Meritorious Service; two Army Commendation Medals; Purple Heart; National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Reserve Medal; Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Vietnamese Honor Medal.
He was assigned to North Carolina A & T State University ROTC from 1975-1979. In 1980, he expanded his family by marrying Hannah R. Free. 1981, he obtained a Master of Arts degree in Public Affairs from Webster College (St. Louis, Missouri); and in 1985, he received a Master of Science degree from North Carolina A & T State University. After retiring from active duty in 1982, he was employed by Guilford County Schools as the Senior Army Instructor at Grimsley High School. He retired from Guilford County Schools after 19 years, having revived a thriving program for integrated students at the once-segregated school, changing the lives of hundreds of students, many of whom are still active military.
In the fall of 1987, Lazelle fulfilled a dream by founding and operating Lacy and Sons, Inc. Transportation Services, a successful company that was “on the move” for over two decades.
Always active in his community, he supported the local Hayes Taylor YMCA, and he was honored by the Boy Scouts of America with the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award for service. An avid sportsman, he also served on the Greensboro Sports Commission for many years. He was inducted into the James B. Dudley Hall of Distinction on October 21, 2017.
Lacy was a staunch Methodist whose demeanor, charm, and efficiency put him on the list for all the opportunities the United Methodist church offered. He was a member of the Western North Carolina Conference, and he also served on the Conference Nominating Committee and the Council of the Laity. He was a board member of the General Commission on Religion and Race from 2004 to 2008. Most recently, the Black Methodists for Church Renewal honored him with the MLK Drum Major for Service Award because he exemplified the scripture, “...for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of…” (Matthew 12:34).
While his service was felt statewide, he was always active with his home church family at Celia Phelps Memorial United Methodist Church, as Lay Leader; Chair of Church Council; Chair of the History Committee; Treasurer; member of United Methodist Men; and as member of the Chancel Choir and Men’s Choir.
In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his brother, Kenneth A. Free, Sr. He leaves behind beautiful memories and funny stories which will be told by his devoted wife Hannah R. Free; children, Lazelle E. Free, Jr. (wife Danika); Kevin R. Free (husband Carl); Richard B. Free (wife Travella); Margaret Payano (husband Roger); and John Michael Free (wife Janette); and four grandchildren, Lyndia, Trey, Brian, and Brandon; and one sister, Loretta F. McKee; one special goddaughter Patricia R. Allen; a host of relatives and friends; and countless former students and colleagues.