Rose Director Friedman passed away Tuesday, August 18, 2009, in her home in Davis, California, of heart failure. While the exact date of her birth is uncertain, she is believed to have been 98 years old. She will be remembered both as a talented economist and an influential advocate of freedom. She was born in Staryi Chortoryisk, in Ukraine, to the Director family, prominent Jewish residents.
She was born in a small village that was then located in Russia and is now part of Ukraine. Her birth records are lost, but she believed she had been born during December 1910. When she was an infant, her mother took her and her siblings and left for America, where her father had already moved to escape threats against his life arising from anti-Semitism. They left just before that part of the countryside was devastated during World War I.
Milton Friedman, winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize in economics, was her husband. He credited his wife with being an “active partner” in all his work since they met in the early 1930s, according to his autobiography posted online by Nobel organizers. She and her husband founded the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, with the aim of promoting the use of school vouchers and freedom of choice in education.
Her economic work helped to discredit the idea of government management of the economy, rolling back policies that were hindering wealth creation and thus helping extend the blessings of prosperity to millions around the world. Friedman was a member of the international selection panel for the institute’s biennial Friedman Prize, which is presented to an individual who has made “a significant contribution to advance human freedom.” Her husband died in November 2006.
And as a standard-bearer for human liberty, she contributed to the galvanizing of public opinion – especially in the 1980s – against the growing encroachments of intrusive government. She will also be remembered as both the professional partner and beloved wife and friend of her late husband of 68 years, Milton Friedman.
Her most important contribution was the 1980 book Free to Choose, which she co-wrote with her husband, and the accompanying ten-part PBS series. Both were highly successful – the book topped the bestseller list for five weeks – and had a profound impact on the public understanding of freedom. At a time when the nation’s confidence in its founding ideas was at an all-time low, Free to Choose played a decisive role in restoring America’s faith in liberty.
Rose Director met Milton Friedman in 1932 when the two were seated next to each other in alphabetical order as graduate students at the University of Chicago. In their memoir of their lives together, Two Lucky People, Milton acknowledged Rose as having been a crucial partner in nearly all his economic and public policy work. And, in addition to her many other accomplishments, Rose had the distinction of being the only person ever known to have won an argument against Milton Friedman.
In 1996, the Friedmans founded the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation to promote school choice policies, which allow parents to choose the public or private school that is best for their children. From then onward, the Friedmans concentrated their efforts on promoting educational freedom through school choice.
Rose Friedman is survived by her son David and daughter Janet, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren. In accordance with her requests, her body will be cremated and the ashes scattered at sea. Rest in peace.