Bruce Fraser, 63, Championed Connecticut's Heritage As Humanities Council Chief For 28 Years
June 15, 2010
Bruce Fraser, 63, of Middletown, known as much for his sharp wit and command of state history as for his tireless work with the Connecticut Humanties Council, died Sunday of cancer.
He joined the Connecticut Humanities Council in 1977, six years after it was founded as a public foundation and state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
He took over as executive director five years later and continued in that post until his death. During his tenure, the agency received four regional Emmys for its "Connecticut Experience," a 19-part TV series on the state's history. He was most recently immersed in creating an online encyclopedia of Connecticut history, which is scheduled to launch in 2012.
An expert on Connecticut history, Fraser was the author of the "The Land of Steady Habits: A Brief History of Connecticut" and "Yankees at War: Social Mobilization on the Connecticut homefront, 1917-1918." He also taught graduate courses in state history at Trinity College and the University of Connecticut.
Fraser developed reading programs for children and adults and established the council's Cultural Heritage Development Fund, which granted more than $13 million to help sustain Connecticut's heritage and cultural institutions.
Ken Kahn, former executive director of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, noted that Fraser made the most of his 33 years with the council. "In that time, you get to do a lot, and he stayed very focused," Kahn said. "He was determined to make the Humanities Council a true state resource, and I think he succeeded."
Kahn said Fraser's laser-sharp sarcasm was well known among associates. "You were blessed if he liked you and cursed if he didn't, and I guess I was blessed."
Phil Schonberger, former chairman of the Connecticut Humanities Council, said Fraser's energy flagged toward the end of his life, but his attitude never did.
"He was from the old school of tough Scotsman," Schonberger said. "Whatever happened, he would just deal with it. No moaning, no complaining. If it didn't work the first time, you just try again."
An athlete and sports fan, Fraser played in local hockey leagues until he was 60.
"Connecticut is the Land of Steady Habits, and he was a guy of steady habits," Schonberger said. "He fished, went to the Caribbean; he worked extra hard and passionately, and that has never let up since the day he got that organization."
Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and now CEO of the American Revolution Center, said of his friend, "You got a sense of his dedication to his job and a sense of the importance of the humanities. He was really inspired to reach every citizen in the state and bring the humanities to everyone."
He is survived by his wife, Constance; his daughter, Elizabeth Fraser, and son-in-law Stephen Wells; and three grandchildren, Liam, Owen and Sloane.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at