When Alice Fraser passed away earlier this year at the age of 102, she, together with her husband, Gordon “Bus” Fraser – who passed away in 2004 – left an incredible legacy to generations of Western students, faculty and staff: a realized estate gift of just over $2 million – a unitrust established nearly 30 years ago – together with their additional bequest of more than $6 million, constitutes the largest gift to Western in the university's history. The range of its impact on WWU departments, scholarships and activities reflects not just the extent of the couple’s generosity and commitment to Western, but celebrates lives dynamically full of interests and shared passions.
While part of the gift will have a direct impact on scholarships to support public high school graduates across Whatcom, Skagit, Island and Snohomish counties, other areas will benefit too, from the departments of music and biology to the College of Business and Economics. There’s funding for specialized science equipment and literature, and a Fraser Lectureship Fund that will bring scholars of international repute to the university.
“They were both always interested in participating in and giving back to the community,” says Al Froderberg, a longtime Western staff and faculty leader, vice president, presidential special assistant and interim president (1987-88), who first met the Frasers in 1986 when they initially decided to support Western. The Frasers’ robust and collaborative relationship with the university ever since, includes the naming of Fraser Hall in 1995 in the couple’s honor. “Bus was a successful businessman here in Bellingham, and wanted to demonstrate to the local business community the importance of supporting Western. Both he and Alice wanted to give money to Western because this is where they made their money, in this community. You leave it where you made it.”
Alice, a graduate of the 1931 class of Washington State Normal School, one of WWU’s earliest incarnations, taught grades one through 12 in a single-room schoolhouse in Ferndale until her marriage, while Bus attended Western but ultimately graduated from the University of Washington. Both were great supporters of higher education and shared passions for music, natural history and socializing.
“They were wonderful people,” says Roger Hutchens who knew Bus and Alice for the past 12 years. He started working with Alice as Bus’s caretaker in 2002, but quickly became a friend, staying on to help Alice after Bus passed away in 2004. “They loved to share and they wanted to support Western, to give others the gift of a higher education which, they felt, isn’t just about learning and gaining knowledge, but about developing a broad perspective. Education, they knew, enlightens. They were generous as people – I never met anyone as sweet as Alice, and I never heard a bad word from either of them. They were always, always about kindness and understanding and open-mindedness. They had such a positive outlook.”
It’s an appropriate gift, agrees Froderberg. “I like seeing it happen because it fulfills their wishes to return the money to the community, to help students, to help the departments and to enhance campus life.”
It’s a fitting eulogy – and legacy – for a Bellingham couple known for enjoying life, learning and, most of all, people.