Soft-spoken and low-key, former Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser didn’t fit the stereotype of the fast-talking politician. Yet his quiet strength leaves a legacy of thoughtful, compassionate public service that made a difference at federal, state and local levels of government.
Fraser died Sunday at his Minneapolis home at age 95. He was the city’s longest-serving mayor (1980 to 1994) and continued to contribute the public good throughout his 70s and 80s along with his wife, Arvonne.
They were a political power couple. Nationally, she helped found or worked with numerous women’s groups, in top leadership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and as U.S. representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Arvonne died last August at 92.
The pair met during political campaigns and were married in 1950. She helped manage the campaigns that resulted in his elections to the Minnesota Senate and U.S. House. Among his best-known legislative achievements are the state’s Fair Housing Act of 1961 and the federal Boundary Waters Protection Act of 1978.
During eight years in Congress, he served on the Foreign Affairs committee where he helped shape then-President Jimmy Carter’s human rights positions. As mayor, he put an end to political favoritism for top jobs in the Police Department and laid the groundwork for the city’s expanded Convention Center.
For many years after leaving elected office, Fraser continued to work for the public good. He hosted salon-type gatherings on education issues, with an emphasis on strategies to narrow the stubborn racial achievement gap. Years before others, he was a champion of the concept of expanded, quality preschool education. Throughout his life, he was an advocate for human, civil and women’s rights.
“He was not your prototypical politician,” his son, Tom Fraser, told a reporter. “He persuaded people by the power of his argument, not the volume of his speech.”
Those arguments yielded important changes in the way government operates and demonstrated the power of quiet, yet passionate, leadership.