Let the memory of Don Fraser and his devotion to Minneapolis be with us forever.
  • 95 years old
  • Born on February 20, 1924 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States.
  • Passed away on June 2, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States.

Former Minneapolis mayor, congressman, state senator, and the most gracious man you could ever meet, Don Fraser died at age 95 on June 2, 2019 at home with his children at his side.  He was proceeded in death by his wife, Arvonne Fraser, who died August 7th, 2018.

Don served his city, state and country with a humility and calm demeanor that belied his intellect and determination. As a state senator in the 50s, Don got the Minnesota Fair Housing Act passed despite major opposition.He chaired the Kennedy for President campaign in Minnesota, and then went to Washington in 1962 as a U.S. congressman.

Don’s slogan was “A Strong America Begins at Home,” and so he pushed for civil rights, for voting rights, and for Medicare and Medicaid.He advocated for D.C. citizens to be able to elect a mayor and city council instead of being ruled by a congressional committee; a picture of him hangs in DC’s City Hall.And he chaired a commission that opened up the Democratic party to more women, young people, and people of color.

Don also worked on international issues, becoming one of the earliest congressional opponents of the Vietnam War.Later, concerned that countries receiving U.S. aid dollars were using that money to prop up dictatorships, Don wrote the law that requires the State Department to report on the human rights records of countries to which the U.S. gives aid.As chair of a House subcommittee on human rights, he investigated South Korea’s efforts to influence U.S. elections.

Don also supported women’s rights and protecting the environment, including a bruising fight to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area as a wilderness area.In so many ways, Don was ahead of his times.

Yet the job Don loved the most was being Mayor of Minneapolis, because he was so much closer to the people he served.As he traveled around Minneapolis, he listened carefully to what each person had to stay, regardless of their wealth or status.Sometimes, he would even stop to help motorists stranded on roads. Recognizing that the actions of the police were critical to a just city, Don brought in a new police chief to reform the department.When he became increasingly concerned about the economic and racial divide in the city, he endorsed Sharon Sayles-Belton to succeed him, the first African-American and first woman to be mayor of Minneapolis.

After he retired from public office, Don brought national attention to the achievement gap in education, advocating for universal preschool to help close the gap.

Don did all this while also being a loving partner to Arvonne, a wonderful father to six children, and a kind and caring grandfather to seven grandchildren.Until they reached their mid-80’s, he and Arvonne went on many BWCA canoe trips with children and grandchildren.

The best way to honor Don is to stand up for voting rights, for human rights, and for the protection of the environment.You can do that with your vote, your time, and your money.Please don’t send flowers, but instead support The Advocates for Human Rights, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Way to Grow, or another advocacy organization of your choice.

You are welcome to join us to remember Don and celebrate his life on June 16 at 2 pm at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center, 200 Oak St. SE, Minneapolis.You may also add your experiences and thoughts to Don’s memorial website here.

Posted by NANCY FARNHAM on June 17, 2019
I had the absolute honor to have worked with Don over the years and have to say he is amongst Minnesota and national elected officials I respected most. Don was a leader in any issue fighting for those with a lesser voice and in protecting our planet. His support of early childhood education brought us together often in his later years and he was one who was happy to meet for coffee or lunch anytime to discuss options on fixing issues related to kids. He will be remembered as a true and honest leader and one of the kindest people to have graced the lives of so many.
Posted by JAMES SPENSLEY on June 16, 2019
I met Don at a fund raiser in about September1959 when I was a transfer student at the U. Don was intrigued by my southern accent and we had a talk about Huey Long. When I got involved in student government, Don sent me a congratulatory note. I saw him at DFL and University events as MSA President, including a meeting with Al Lowenstein at the NSA Congress. Al became the Democratic Study Group Executive Director. Don, Al and I worked on civil rights the Sit-ins and Freedom Rides. Then for years on campaigns, caucuses and conventions. He was the best candidate I ever met; he could find a useful answer for any question he was asked including some mean and gross ones. What a Legislator. What a Mayor. What a friend. What a Father. What a man (person)!!
Posted by Rosalie Kane on June 16, 2019
My husband Robert Kane and I moved to Minneapolis in 1985. Because of my friendship with a nationally known social work educator, Esther Wattenberg, we were on the regular guest list for small dinner parties that Esther and Lee continued to host on into the 21st century. Don and Arvonne Fraser (as well as Art and Fran Naftalin) were often at those dinners for about 8. For us, born in 1940 and usually the youngest at the table, it was an enormous privilege, an education, and an inspiration to hear about past and present challenges in Minnesota and nationally in that salon-like atmosphere and from the knowledgeable,thoughtful, and empathic voices of Don and Arvonne. Whether thinking about the University, the city, the state, or the nation , they never lost interest, never stopped planning and caring or looking to the future with appreciation of generational change and human need. What a legacy! My condolences to the Fraser family.
Posted by Barbara McMillan on June 14, 2019
I would like add some personal memories from childhood. Don and Arvonne Fraser were very close friends of my parents, Gerry and Uva Dillon. I remember Sunday dinners with lots of children between the two families, boat rides on the St Croix River, all-day long swims in the summer, leafleting for Don’s races during campaign seasons — and always good humor toward the young by Don. Never a raised voice. Don liked to tinker with radios and clocks and machines in general and would be pleased to explain whatever the children wanted to know. I truly believe Don was one of the bright stars in the world: honest, intelligent, committed and caring. He will be very much missed. To all the Fraser children, now adults, I send my love. Barbara Dillon McMillan
Posted by Ruth Cain on June 14, 2019
Don Fraser was right every time it counted for the common good. I wish we could clone him. He would be so pleased about the new progressive young Congresspeople elected in 2018! He got things done with a quiet persistance as he brought others to his point of view. He is missed.
Posted by Joseph Baron on June 12, 2019
I had the privilege and opportunity to meet both Arvone and Don Fraser. Don was a very gracious individual. His values inspired many human rights activists and human rights movements. I hold Don Fraser in the highest esteem. Don and Arvone both will be missed. I extend my deepest condolences to the Fraser family.
Posted by Mark Oyaas on June 9, 2019
I hold Don Fraser in the highest esteem. As a young kid I was part of a gang rounded up by his friends in the neighborhoood to drop literarture for his Congressional campaigns. I worked on the Fraser camapigns for US Senate and Mayor. My friend and business partner, Chuck Neerland was a close friend and advisor of Don's over many years. From that vantage point and from inside City Hall working for the remarkable Judy Corrao I saw Don's intellect and integrity at work for the greater good. He championed city governance reform, early childhood education and broke the cycle of police union factions appointing the police chief. Quiet yes, but he understood the power of his popularity as well as any mayor. He was often at odds with the council on big philosophical issues but could collaborate effectively when needed. Don and Council President Alice Rainville were the team that successfully championed a new convention center. The small sales tax that supported the convention center will be rolled over as the City's support of US Bank Stadium. Contemporary Minneapolis Mayors would be wise to learn from Fraser's style and step up and out when Council antics call for it. That leadership made Minneapolis a better place and cemented the legacy we celebrate at his passing.
Posted by Laurie Savran on June 9, 2019
When I was first endorsed by the DFL for library board I didn't know anyone in politics. I went to a meeting for candidates at city hall and asked for a ride to my car since it was raining. A very pleasant man offered me a ride and when I saw that his car was parked right outside the door of city hall I asked how he got such a prime parking spot. He looked at me and said, "I'm the mayor." That was my first and memorable meeting with the kind, gentle and brilliantly effective man
Posted by Robin Phillips on June 7, 2019
Don was indeed the most gracious man you could ever meet. By living his values so publicly, he inspired generations of human rights activists and left the world a better place. I have met people from countries around the world who knew him (and Arvonne) and appreciated their many contributions to the human rights movement. We were fortunate to have him in Minnesota. I consider it to be one of the great privileges of my life to have known him.
Posted by Gary Rasmussen on June 7, 2019
I worked for Congressman Fraser in the mid 1960's. Joe Robertson, who was working for Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman referred me for the job. I remember all these years later that Robertson said that Don was the most moral person I would ever meet. How true. I want to relate a story that illustrates his integrity and honesty. One time I drove Don to the airport and returning to Capital Hill could not find a parking place. In frustration I parked illegally and got a ticket. I threw the ticket away because it was common practice then for congressional people to ignore parking tickets. When Don heard about this he was upset and insisted that I go to the DC DMV office and pay the ticket. He would not even allow this very small transgression to happen. His honesty and integrity were only matched by his intelligence, sense of fair play and hard work. A truly great person and public servant. Gary Rasmussen Fairfax, VA.
Posted by Geri Joseph on June 5, 2019
The City of Minneapolis was lucky to have had a mayor like Don Fraser. Don believed in the rights of the citizenry. Burton and I were good friends with Don and Arvonne for many decades. We worked together on many issues that I hope helped improve life in Minneapolis. We miss them both and extend our deepest condolences to the Fraser family.
Posted by Kevin Proescholdt on June 5, 2019
I will be forever grateful for Don and the incredible leadership he provided in saving the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Without Don and his enormous stature in Congress, we could have never gotten off the ground in that campaign. Without Don and his unwavering commitment to protect this special place, we could have never passed the 1978 BWCAW Act. He never let personal political considerations get in the way, and remained steadfast in his efforts to protect this incredible wild gem. Thank you, Don!
Posted by William Ball on June 4, 2019
My Mother Martha was a supporter of Don’s. In 1970 she was volunteering for Don’s re-election to Congress- I helped by addressing and stuffing envelopes. I credit them both for involvement in politics- In 1972 I attended my first caucus which led to a couple decades In many capacities as a DFl party officer or delegate. One summer Don and Arvonne had the entire 5th District DFL central committee to their summer home on the St Croix. I came to know them both, including my time as a board member of the Minnesota chapter of Americans For Democratic Action (when Don was national president). My fondest memory (besides the incredible DFL city convention in 1979 when Don stepped in to run for Mayor at the last minute) was Don - as Mayor- my guest of honor at my house warming in 1980! Truly the most humble, caring and decent public servant I ever met! Condolences to his family and friends - what a life full of contributions
Posted by Alberta Azais on June 4, 2019
Your light shines on. --Fraser Person 1978. . .
Posted by Dennis Schustad on June 4, 2019
It was my honor to serve on the Minneapolis City Council during the entire time Don Fraser was our Mayor. As the only endorsed Republican office holder during much of that time, Don and I often had disagreements. Yet, I learned so much from him about working for good government and being respectful and civil. We were both competitive, even on the tennis court, but we always enjoyed working together. Don Fraser was a great official and we all benefitted from his thoughtful leadership. He is missed!

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