Eulogy delivered by Tom Fraser, son of Don and Arvonne Fraser at Memorial Service

Shared by John Fraser on June 24, 2019

As many of you know, our father had some traits and characteristics that did not predict success as a politician.  He was kind of shy, unassuming, and he didn’t talk much.  When he did talk, he was understated.  He was a math major/chess-club kind of guy.   He would rather listen to others than give an opinion of his own.  Although he could rattle off scientific data, he had a hard time remembering names and faces.  And he did not like asking people for money.

But he overcame these political deficits in one bold move.  He married Arvonne!  Someone who was not shy and understated, who remembered names and faces, and who was a master networker.  She did have a lot of opinions and, as Dad said about her, she volunteered those opinions without being asked.  And she liked organizing and running things, including his life, his campaigns, his office, and our household, all at the same time while perpetually pregnant with six of the eight kids they joked about having.  Together they enjoyed a personal and political partnership that lasted 68 years.
You’ve heard about the public side of Dad’s life, but I want to tell you a little about the personal side.  He was a full-blooded Scot, the product of two immigrants from Prince Edward Island and Halifax, Nova Scotia.  From his father, the dean of the law school for 28 years here at this University, Dad acquired an interest in both the rule of law and community service.  Right after WWII, a young lawyer named Earl Larson asked our grandfather what he should do.   Dean Fraser told him he should form a law firm that could be a base for lawyers who would get involved in the community.  
Earl Larson did that and happened to hire our father, among others, in this law firm, which became known as Larson, Loevinger, Lindquist, Freeman, and Fraser.  On election day, November 1954, the three most junior partners all were elected to office – Governor, state senator, and state representative – the two senior partners had to settle for becoming judges.
So together Dad and his law partners fulfilled his father’s vision of a law firm as a launching pad for community service.  And I might add that a guy named Fritz Mondale also passed through that law firm on his way to public office.   
From his mother, Dad acquired a different set of interests and aptitudes.  She had wanted to be a chemist but was prevented from doing so because she was a woman.  Dad, along with his four siblings, inherited her love of science and gadgets.  He was fascinated by electronic devices and loved to fix things.  Whenever an appliance or machine or a computer broke down at home or at the office, Dad fixed it.  He always had a voltmeter in his desk. 
Dad was, however, oblivious to some things – one of which was the clothing he wore.   Mom had to stay on top of him in that regard – in other words, Dad had to pass inspection before she would let him out of the house. One evening, he had to go to a black-tie event and she evidently decided that he should be “fashion-forward” for once in his life.  She told him to wear this fancy turtleneck she had bought him to wear with his tux – this was back in the 1960’s-- and he put it on as instructed and went to the reception by himself.  When he arrived, he couldn’t understand why these reporters, mostly women, rushed up to him.  Turns out he was the subject of a major fashion event as the first person to wear a turtleneck tuxedo to the White House!  And that was the first and last time he ever got mentioned in a publication called Women’s Wear Daily.

Despite his public persona, he was an active, fun-loving guy.  He played tennis every Monday night for 30 years and most Saturdays until he was in his mid-80’s.  He loved the water, having grown up spending summers on the St. Croix River, and swam every summer of his life, including last summer.   I’ll never forget the day I saw him doing a back flip off the diving board when he was in his 70’s.  He was an expert sailor, water skier and scuba diver.  And he went on BWCA trips with Mom, my aunt Bonnie, my siblings and me, and the grandkids, until he was 85 – Mom described those trips as “three generations of sibling rivalry.”

Dad loved to build things.  One dock he built was truly a work of art.   It was about 30 feet long, had a wooden diving board at one end, and at the other end, he designed it so that you could install an outboard motor on it.  Every summer, on my sister Mary Mac’s birthday in August, he would unhook the dock from its anchor chain, drop a motor onto it, and tool around the river with a floating birthday party of a couple dozen kids jumping off the moving dock and trying to get back on before it passed by.  Dad would tie a long rubber tube, or an extension ladder, to the back of the dock and he would be in the water hanging onto the very end of the tube or ladder and act like a center fielder or free safety by scooping up any kid that missed grabbing onto the dock as we went by.   
He was a laidback, easygoing father of six kids.  He installed a jungle gym in our living room, a darkroom in our basement for developing photos, and we had Morse code transmitters on the dining room table.  He taught us how to play tennis and chess and could beat us at chess without even looking at the board.  He never raised his voice with us.   Actually, he did raise his voice when he was singing to us, which he often did.  When someone recently asked us for his favorite song so that they could do a musical tribute to him, the family consensus was that his favorite song was, “What Can You Do With a Drunken Sailor?”  
He took his kids with him wherever he went, including down to his office and sometimes onto the House floor.  Consistent with his laissez-faire style of parenting, he did not care what we wore and he did not closely supervise us.  That is why we can let you in on two secrets known only to our family: First, a superball thrown down the halls of Congress will bounce off marble floors and walls about 100 times before coming to rest at the far end; and second, if you drop that same superball from the fifth floor of a staircase in the House Office Building, it will bounce all the way back up to the third floor!  
We are thankful that Dad was calm not just with us kids, but also under pressure.  If he hadn’t been, he wouldn’t have made it to Washington, D.C. to be sworn in, and neither I nor my brother John would be alive.  In December 1962, after his first election to Congress, we moved to Washington in a caravan of two cars and one tightly packed U-Haul trailer.  The trailer was towed by a 1959 Nash Rambler that Dad drove.  My brother John and I happened to be in that car at the beginning of the trip.   
My mother and her sister Bonnie were directly behind us in a station wagon, with the other four kids, including Jeannie, who was just two weeks old.  We were driving in a snowstorm.  Less than 90 minutes into the trip, we were on Interstate 94 in western Wisconsin going slowly down a steep, icy hill when the U-Haul trailer started twisting left and right, picking up the back end of the Rambler.  
My mother and Aunt Bonnie watched in horror from behind as our car was being bounced around by the bucking trailer.  Dad had to make a decision.  He saved our lives with his quick thinking.  He hit the accelerator --- when most people would have instinctively hit the brakes.  By speeding up, he started pulling the trailer instead of letting the trailer push the car.  If he hadn’t made the correct split-second decision, the trailer, which was heavier than the car, would have jackknifed and rolled us over – and seatbelts didn’t exist back then.   Right after that, he bought some rope and tied our doors shut for the rest of the trip. 
He may have saved another life – for one of his constituents.  One day while he was in Congress, in about 1965, Dad disappeared.  His office didn’t know where he was at first.  I kept bugging Mom to tell me where he was and finally she told me after she swore me to secrecy.  He went to Mississippi, under the radar, because one of his constituents, a college student who was down there protesting for civil rights, had been thrown into a Mississippi jail just for protesting.  Dad ended up getting this guy out of jail.    
Dad was, as you know, a man of principle.  He stood up for his staff.  Iric Nathanson wrote a nice article in MinnPost about that, citing the time when Congressman Wayne Hays of Ohio, head of the House Administration Committee, refused to sign a paycheck for one of Dad’s staffers because Hays didn’t like what Dad had asked this staffer to do.  But Iric didn’t explain how Dad made Wayne Hays buckle, so I will. 
When Dad learned that Hays wouldn’t sign the paycheck, he marched down to the floor of the House, which was in session, and promptly requested a quorum call.  A quorum call in the House takes 20 minutes because a clerk has to read off 435 names.  When the first quorum call was done, Dad demanded another quorum call, making clear that he was going to keep doing this, and stop the entire House of Representatives from conducting any business, until Hays agreed to sign that paycheck.  In the middle of the third quorum call, Hays walked over to Dad, caved in, and never did it again.
And you’ve heard about the Boundary Waters fight.  When an interviewer asked him why he would risk his political career over this issue, Dad responded, “There are times when one just has to do the right thing regardless of the cost personally.  This is one of those times.”  He never regretted protecting the BWCA and our family made sure he continued to enjoy the wilderness that he protected.  It was not just an academic subject for him – he had been canoeing up there with his friends from the St. Croix since the 1930’s.  And he and Mom spent their honeymoon canoeing up there.     
Above all, our father was a kind, gracious, and gentle person.  He never spoke ill of anyone, including his political opponents.  And he was a genuinely nice guy who remained humble because he didn’t know how not to be.   It never occurred to Dad to take his phone number out of the phone book, even after he started getting calls from Minneapolis residents, when Dad was mayor, at 6 or 7 a.m. complaining about garbage collection.  
One day, there was a hitchhiker on old Highway 12, now 394.  He was a young professor at this University who had escaped Czechoslovakia but had had difficulty getting into the US when he was being recruited by this University.  When a car stopped to pick him up, the hitchhiker was flabbergasted that the driver was the Congressman who had helped him get his visa to come here.  This guy later told people that “only in Minnesota would a Congressman pick up a hitchhiker.” 
Today, we celebrate the life of a kind, gracious and gentle man, who believed in community and public service, and who stood up for what he believed in.   One day when I was in high school, we were discussing the Salem witch trials at the dinner table.  Dad made a comment that I’ve never forgotten.  He said those witch trials and that era showed that “civilization is only paper-thin.”  We don’t need to be reminded of that these days. 
Thank you to our good friend Sarah Anderson and caregivers from Joyful Companions, all of whom did a wonderful job helping us take care of Dad.  Thanks to all of you for coming.  After being patient for all of these speeches, you are now primed for what my father always wanted when he came out of the Boundary Waters –  an “ice-cold beer.”  And we have that for you in the back, along with wine, pop, and water.  
We hope you will stay and mingle and reminisce.  The bar is now open!

Eulogy delivered by Jean Fraser, daughter of Don and Arvonne Fraser at Memorial Service

Shared by John Fraser on June 24, 2019

Welcome and thank you for coming.

I’m Jean Fraser, Don and Arvonne’s youngest daughter.

Thank you for joining us to remember and honor our father.When we were thinking about this service, we pondered how to reflect all that Dad accomplished in his life in one hour.And we decided that the listing of his accomplishments could be done on paper – in the obituaries and commentaries that have run in news papers on blog posts across the country, in the materials on the table in the back and in a listing in the program.So instead we decided to focus on what he was like as person – as a roommate , in the case of Vice President Mondale, as a colleague to Mayor Latimer, as a boss and mentor for Rip Rapson, and as a friend to Lori Sturdevant.And of course, as a father, to Tom and all of us.

And the reason for this is because if you read about Don Fraser, you would expect a big personality, a larger than life ego, a person who insists on my way or the high way.This is the image that American culture pushes as what it takes to be an effective leader.And it is this image – an image that is wrong in so many ways – that has led our country into trouble.

The reason this image is wrong is that it make us overlook so many people who are leaders, and it discourages some people who don’t look or act like big, powerful, loud white men from trying to lead.Of course, for some people, like our mother Arvonne, who was 4’ 11 inches tall – well that image just served as a goad to work even harder.

This dominant image is also wrong because the best leaders are not those with the biggest egos.Or the loudest voices.

Dad was about as far away from this as you could imagine.Don Fraser was a shy, introverted man who majored in math. Our father lead not by blustering, but by listening, and thinking, and constantly learning.He lead not by glorifying the past or his own accomplishments, but by leaning into the challenges of the present and seeking ideas and advice from others.

The best leaders lead because they are compelled, despite the costs that come with leadership, to make the world better for those they represent. They see positions of power not as an end in themselves, but as a means to an end. In short, the best leaders leader from humility.

Our father, Don Fraser, was the most humble, gracious man I ever knew.He made Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the world better.And he never claimed credit.In fact, this whole service would have made him incredibly uncomfortable.

The other myth about effective leaders is that they do everything alone.This could not be further from the truth. The only way Don Fraser did what he did was because he had a loving, supportive family, led by our amazing mother, Arvonne who died just last August.

I want to give a particular shout out to our Aunt Bonnie Skelton, who was our second mother and carried us through every summer and every campaign, and every birth of yet another child, and every move, and every tragedy we endured.

Will the extended Fraser family-- and this includes all the Skeltons here -- please stand and be recognized for all you did to support Don Fraser.

But our family was not enough.It took a whole community to get Don Fraser into elected office and keep him there.And it took advocates – for women’s rights, for human rights, for civil rights, for environmental protection, for each childhood education, for downtown development – it took advocates to support the ideas that Dad championed.If you ever worked on a Fraser campaign, if you ever contributed money to his campaign or to a cause he believed in, or if ever voted for him, thank you.

And finally, I’d like thank all of you who here who are serving, or have ever served, in an elected of appointed government role. Being in government is not easy; we know that first hand.Thank you for the sacrifices you and your family have made for you to be in government, thank you for your efforts to do good in the world, and thank you for your service. Please stand and be recognized.

I’d like to close with our father’s own words.He gave a eulogy for two of his closest friends in Congress – Phil Burton and Ben Rosenthal – who died within months of each other.As was usual, Dad spoke of Phil and Ben as doing everything, but he was writing about himself as well:

“We shared a common philosophy that brought us together.It was a philosophy invigorated by the optimism that most of us shared after World War II, that indeed a better world was within reach; and at its center was the acceptance of a claim for more justice by men and women everywhere, the rightness of the claim to be free of poverty and economic oppression, to be assured of due process under law and to fully and freely participate in choosing one’s own government.”

Honor Don and Arvonne Fraser by continuing to be optimistic, by continuing to promote justice and due process of law for men and women and transgender people everywhere, by continuing to believe that government – in the right hands – is the greatest force for good that humankind has ever created.Honor by continuing to advocate, to march, to write, to contribute, and to vote for leaders who lead with humility as Don Fraser did every day of his life.


Shared by Barbara McMillan on June 12, 2019

I would like add some personal memories of Don from my 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

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