Leo Fraser, longtime Pittsfield lawmaker, ‘leaves a lot of good memories and a lot of good work’

Last modified: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Leo Fraser, who died last week at the age of 86, was an insurance man who raised 11 children and helped lead his adopted home of Pittsfield as a selectman and town moderator. And at the State House, where he served for two decades, Fraser was a respected lawmaker, a moderate Republican whose kindness and hard work earned him admirers on both sides of the aisle.

“He really was what the New Hampshire citizen Legislature is all about,” said former Senate president Ed Dupont. “Obviously, nobody who served was doing it for the money, but he really took to heart what it meant to be a legislator. ... He was one of the most respected legislators in the body when I was there, and somebody who really helped us get our work done during a very difficult period of time.”

Fraser died Friday; according to his daughter, Pat Bourgault of Concord, he had been battling leukemia but died after a short illness.

A funeral mass will be celebrated Tuesday morning at 10:30 at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church on the Heights in Concord. He will be buried at Floral Park Cemetery in Pittsfield.

“He enjoyed people in general,” Bourgault said. “He was very social, very active in a lot of community events. He was big in the insurance industry.”

And, she said, “He just always enjoyed politics.”

Leo W. Fraser Jr. was born Dec. 8, 1926, in Boston, the son of Leo W. Fraser Sr. and Rose Nicholson, according to a family obituary.

He graduated from Boston’s High School of Commerce, Northeastern University and the New England School of Law. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1944 to 1946, and was stationed in China during World War II.

He entered the insurance business in Massachusetts, and in 1970 moved to Pittsfield. He served as acting commissioner of the New Hampshire Insurance Department from 1975 to 1976, and in 1976 founded Fraser Insurance Services, a claims-adjustment company that two of his sons continue to operate in Concord.

In Pittsfield, he was a selectman for six years, starting in 1978, and also served a stint as the town’s moderator. Later, in 2002, Fraser was briefly appointed to the Pittsfield Board of Selectmen by a panel of three Merrimack County Superior Court judges amid a deadlock over filling a vacant seat.

Fraser was “very active in our community,” said Larry Konopka, chairman of the Pittsfield selectmen, including as a longtime member of the American Legion post and the Pittsfield Rotary Club.

He also got involved in state politics, serving three terms in the House beginning in 1984.

Concord Republican Liz Hager sat next to Fraser — “a big bear of a guy,” she said — on the House Health and Human Services Committee during the 1985-1986 session.

“I learned very quickly, as one would learn in there, that he had 11 children,” Hager said. “And so I was not real excited about talking with him about one of my favorite subjects, which is abortion and choice.”

But, she said, Fraser turned out to be “one of our greatest friends on choice,” and an effective advocate on the House floor.

“He always said, ‘We made a choice to have 11 kids,’” she said.

As a lawmaker, Hager said, Fraser “completely exemplified the ‘disagreeing without being disagreeable,’ and just working hard on issues and voting whatever way he felt was the right way to vote, and not holding it against anyone who voted the other way.”

Fraser moved up to the state Senate in 1990, winning the first of five terms. Among other things, he fought to move the state prison out of Laconia and toughen prison sentences for convicted rapists.

“He was a very, very good person to work with. He wasn’t extremely partisan. He understood the issues, obviously, and he was good at it,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat. “He was a Republican, no getting around that, but he was a person who paid attention to the issues. Solid legislator, solid guy.”

Fraser was seeking a sixth term in the Senate when he was unseated in the 2000 Republican primary by the more conservative Robert Boyce, a Republican representative from Alton.

Fraser lost that race by 153 votes. He attributed the defeat to his vote, in 1999, in favor of a statewide income tax. (At the time, the Legislature was wrestling with the problem of school funding after the state Supreme Court’s Claremont decisions.)

“When I took that vote, I had a feeling there was going to be some political payback down the line, and there was,” Fraser said on election night.

But Fraser quickly shifted gears, winning a seat in the House that November. He served two additional terms as a representative, until he moved to Concord in 2004 to be closer to his children. He ran that year for a seat representing his new city in the House, but lost.

His wife, Patricia Fraser, died in 1998 at the age of 69; she had been chairwoman of the Pittsfield School Board and was Merrimack County’s register of probate for 18 years.

“As much as my father was in the public eye, my mother was really the backbone for my father,” Bourgault said. “She’s the one who really raised us, because he was out working.”

The couple raised 11 children, and 10 survive him, as do two sisters, 20 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

“The Frasers were always top shelf,” D’Allesandro said. “With the loss of Leo, we lose a really good guy. ... He leaves a lot of good memories and a lot of good work.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)