Humphrey School News—June 4, 2019

Don Fraser Remembered as 'Epitome of a Public Servant'

Longtime Minnesota politician was strong supporter of the Humphrey School


Undated black-and-white photo of then-Mayor Don Fraser sitting behind a desk reading a newspaper
Don Fraser, who served as mayor of Minneapolis, a member of Congress, and a Minnesota state senator, died June 2 at the age of 95. (Photo: Hennepin County Library)

Don Fraser, former Minnesota congressman and Minneapolis mayor who died Sunday at age 95, is being remembered as a "quiet crusader" for his contributions to public life and a commitment to progressive politics.

Political leaders from around Minnesota praised Fraser on their social media accounts. Fraser was a "true champion for good," said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Fraser shaped Minnesota for generations, and was ahead of his time in his advocacy for human rights, environmental protections, and early childhood education.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey described Fraser as the "epitome of a public servant," and said his contributions to the city during his time as mayor are invaluable.

Fraser and his wife, Arvonne, a political activist in her own right who died last year, were strong supporters of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Arvonne  was a senior fellow at the Humphrey School in the 1980s, and co-founded the School’s Center on Women and Public Policy.

The Frasers (in a 2017 photo below), one of Minnesota’s enduring power couples, recognized the value of public service based on honesty, integrity, and values, said Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg.

Arvonne and Don Fraser outside their home in Minneapolis in a 2017 photo, with the Mississippi River in the background.

"With Don's passing we say goodbye to a beloved and dedicated public servant who in so many ways shaped the thriving metropolitan area we have today," Bloomberg said. "Don possessed a winning combination for a policymaker: a fierce intellect, a strong sense of his own values, and a huge heart. Don was guided by a very clear moral compass and his leadership stands as a model for us all. I will miss him."

Fraser is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota, earning his bachelor’s and law degrees in the 1940s. He became active in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and worked on Hubert Humphrey’s 1948 campaign for the U.S. Senate.

A few years afterward, Fraser ran for office himself, winning a seat in the Minnesota State Senate in 1954. In 1962 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 1978 he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate seat held by Humphrey, who had died earlier that year.

Fraser returned to Minneapolis and was elected mayor in 1979. He served for 14 years and remains the longest-serving mayor in Minneapolis history.

One of his signature issues as mayor was his advocacy for early childhood education. In 1985, Fraser helped establish the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board, which brought together the city, Hennepin County, Minneapolis Public Schools, and Minneapolis Parks and Recreation to implement and coordinate policies and services to benefit Minneapolis children and youth. 

"I will remember Don most for his unwavering commitment to children," said Bloomberg, who worked for several years as a public school administrator. "For years he was a mentor to me on K-12 education policy and early childhood education funding mechanisms. He was always generous with his ideas and his advice—and he made me a better educator."

Don and Arvonne Fraser were married for 68 years, and had six children.

Read more about Don Fraser’s life and legacy in the Star Tribune

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