Latest Solidarity Issue

A daughter’s remembrances


<p>Jeanne Fraser, center, with dad Doug and sister Judy</p>

Jeanne Fraser, center, with dad Doug and sister Judy

(Editor's note: Jeanne Fraser is Doug's youngest daughter. Her mother, Eva Falk, was Doug's first wife, who died in 1968. Jeanne, an OPEIU 494 member, has worked at Solidarity House, the UAW headquarters in Detroit, since 1963. Here are some fond memories of her father on various topics, as told to Jennifer John.)

On coming to America

He'd visited Scotland many times since coming to America when he was 6. We even had a Fraser family tartan plaid with our own crest.

My dad remembered coming over. His mother was deathly ill the entire two-week trip on the ship. Once here he always wore knickers and kids at school teased him about them, so his mother got him pants.

Oddly enough, dad always had a thing about tablecloths being on the table whenever we went out to eat. We never understood why until one day he told us about how he and his sister Sally used to sneak up to the ship's first class dining room, climb under the tables – covered with white tablecloths – and bring bread to their mother.

On being in the Army

He actually used to march my sister Judy and I into dinner. We thought he must have been a general or some big shot. Turns out he was only in the Army for nine months and he never left the states. He liked to joke that the war ended because he enlisted. He also talked about a bridge he helped build during the service. We always kidded him that we'd never, ever want to cross that bridge because frankly he wasn’t much of a handyman.

On Walter Reuther

To this day, dad said he dreamed about Walter, whom he considered his mentor. My father thought Walter was such a visionary, so ahead of his time. He often quoted Walter regarding the media saying, “You need to talk to the press because they never run out of ink.”

On not becoming UAW president

After Walter’s death, dad never politicked and never asked for a vote. He knew Leonard (Woodcock) had been there longer and was due. My dad narrowly lost the board's poll and withdrew his bid for the good of the union.

On a possible bid for the U.S. Senate

It's not what he wanted. His heart, his soul was the UAW.

On becoming UAW president

We were all in Texas for the UAW Convention. It meant the world to him to become UAW president. And, just like Walter did, he never sat down while a UAW convention was in session.

On leadership

He really believed that if you were secure in yourself, you should always treat people with respect no matter who they are, from janitors to heads of state. He loved people and being with them. But he never took advantage of his position, like cutting in line to get a table ahead of others. He just never did that sort of thing.

On what she most admired about him

His humanity. He used to say “always ask why” before you judge anyone. He taught me the importance of empathy.

On his easy-going manner

That was just him. When we were kids, he never raised his voice or a hand to us. He'd just raise his eyebrows. Like all of us, he had his faults, but he was a genuinely caring and loving man. He was so extraordinary.

On retirement

He loved teaching. Once he was lecturing at a college that was more conservative than most, and afterward several students came up to him and said he didn't fit their stereotype of a union leader: an overweight, cigar-chomping, foul-mouthed boss. Without missing a beat, dad said, “You just described Lee Iacocca.”

On keeping life interesting

He always looked forward to getting up every morning to read the New York Times because he said, “I knew there was always something that would p-ss me off and get my adrenalin going!”

On his legacy

As hard as it was and as much as he did during those Chrysler years with the strike and bailout – and he had many sleepless nights – he felt that was nothing compared to what was going on in the labor movement now, or to what Ron Gettelfinger had to deal with in the 2007 auto negotiations.

On politics

He loved politics and really looked forward to this year’s presidential election. In fact, at one of our last dinners together he made a toast and said he wanted to live at least until January 2009 to see a Democrat in the White House again.

On dying

Did he ever think about it? Yes. What did he think about it? He didn't want to.