I didn’t know Christine Freitag well. Our paths usually would cross when she was making the case for one of the many causes, organizations and interests to which she devoted uncommon time, energy and intelligence for decades. I admired her from a distance.

Since learning belatedly of her death last month at age 84, I have been thinking about her public life lived so well, about how through the ethic of conservation and environmental stewardship she made Akron and surroundings better. Few here have achieved as much.

Atul Gawande, the surgeon and writer for The New Yorker, published a book about the concept of “better,” the appeal of steady and incremental advances in contrast to shooting for the moon, or what many like to call “transformational” change. The transformation may come eventually. Better to proceed where you can, rolling up your sleeves to get something done today.

That is what was striking about Freitag. She had the vision thing, alert, for instance, to how much we would come to appreciate preserving and celebrating natural beauty in our urban setting. At the same time, she understood what it takes to get things done, the organizational skills, persistence and capacity to rally others, passionate about the cause and graceful in the execution.

She was a complete leader.

Her largest task, at least in scope, was the presidency of the Garden Club of America from 1993 to 1995. She received the organization’s highest award in 2007. The presidency was something of a culmination that began with the Akron Garden Club. Through her leadership of the conservation committee, she moved the national club to take up a broader agenda involving endangered plants and other environmental concerns.

Three decades ago, Freitag was warning about endangering and destroying natural resources. The Garden Club of America enhanced its national profile, Freitag and others taking that voice to Capitol Hill.

Around here is where she made a difference on many fronts. In the 1970s, she was part of the effort that led to what is now the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, eventually becoming the president of the Conservancy for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. She brought her conservation perspective to the Akron Planning Commission as a member.

Freitag was a founding member of Friends of Metro Parks, launching and leading an organization that has worked to support and improve what is one of the area’s most valuable assets. Think of what distinguishes Greater Akron, and the parks come quickly to mind. That wouldn’t be the case without Freitag and others working to help make it so.

Among their projects has been an effort to remove invasive plants from the Metro Parks and the national park. That has involved no less than pulling such invaders as garlic mustard and barberry out of the ground. At one point, Freitag described the work as “especially satisfying.”

She served on the board of the Ohio Environmental Council. She was a founder and president of Scenic Ohio, an affiliate of Scenic America, dedicated to beautifying byways and other aspects of the state’s landscape. It follows that she engaged in the battles of the billboards within the city, pressing for restrictions, moratoriums and the end of what she called “litter on a stick.”

“A beautiful community does not have billboards,” she told the Akron City Council in 2009.

All of this still doesn’t capture the complete civic role, Freitag, among other things, president of the board of Planned Parenthood and adding her voice to urging Gov. John Kasich to fund fully the Clean Ohio program, designed to protect green space, invest in parks and repair brownfields. In 2002, she was the first recipient of the F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling Award to honor her lasting imprint on the community.

It matters that eight years later, the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association presented its award of excellence to Christine and Bob Freitag, who survives his wife. This was a partnership of 61 years, Bob making his own impressive contribution, their daughter Amy (who followed their conservation path) getting it right at the time: “They are people of character and deeds.”

Count as reflective of both the garden at their house, the brilliant creation of her, with his help. She was a master gardener who conceived such features as the living fence of apple trees at the front and the greenhouse with orchids to be admired from the second floor of the house. See the September/October issue of Ohio Gardener for a story about the garden by Jill Sell with photographs by Jane Rogers.

It is a portrait of how Christine Freitag helped build a better Akron.

Douglas is the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514 or emailed at mdouglas@thebeaconjournal.com.