Rose Friedman was once described as “equal parts velvet and steel.” At once her husband’s wife and colleague, Rose was never the great woman behind a great man. She noted in a 1999 interview that “I’ve always felt that I’m responsible for at least half of what he’s gotten.” From co-authoring three of his most influential works to providing the impetus for such ambitious projects as their television series and nonprofit foundation, Rose Director Friedman can rightfully be called Milton’s partner.
An influential economist in her own right, Rose greatly influenced Milton’s economic thought. “It was an extremely close intellectual fellowship, and she was not someone who got credit for things she didn’t do,” Milton’s student Gary Becker observes. “They discussed ideas constantly.” Another longtime friend of the couple remarks that, for Milton, Rose’s opinion was “the ultimate test.” Friedman eagerly sought his wife’s point of view when developing his own, and openly admitted that she was the only person who had ever won an argument with him. This intellectual equality rendered their professional collaboration a very natural one. Still, she said, “I was smart enough to know that he was smarter than me.” So while Milton focused his efforts on technical economics, Rose set out to bring their theory of freedom to the public.
In the early 1980s, PBS approached the couple about turning their co-written international best-seller Free to Choose into a television series. After convincing Milton to take on the project with her, Rose assumed the role of associate producer and was heavily involved in organizing the series, which achieved global success. Friends and relations also credit her with providing the inspiration for the Friedman Foundation. But while she is universally recognized as an expert economist with intelligence and drive, Rose is also remembered for the grace with which she balanced her roles as colleague and wife.
“She was a great lady, in every sense of the word,” an acquaintance recalls. Outspoken yet polite, patient yet uncompromising, Rose stepped confidently — never aggressively — into her husband’s spotlight and quickly bowed out again when appropriate. She complemented Milton, earning the admiration of her peers and setting a tremendous example of feminine strength, courage and love.
These virtues helped to sustain the Friedmans through an arduous fight for freedom. When they entered academia, the field was virtually void of principled conservatives. Their work reintroduced classical liberalism as a valid and critically important body of thought with the power to revolutionize society as well as the academy. Milton and Rose changed the world together, leaving a legacy that will flourish for generations to come.