By Jamie Bryson- Editor@UnionistVoice.com
This short piece is little more than a basic attempt to pay tribute to one of the finest Ulstermen that ever lived, William Fredrick Frazer. I could write a fluffy piece, but Willie would not have appreciated that. If I had done so, he would likely have said to me “awk such a lot of auld nonsense”.
I am privileged to be the only person to have shared a prison cell with William Frazer. In 2013 we found ourselves locked up in HMP Maghberry following our role in the union flag protests. For two weeks we shared a small cell, locked up 23 hours a day.
This came after we had lived in each-others pockets for 3 months during the height of the protests. We were friends long before that, but we became even closer during that period of time. It is perhaps due to the strong nature of our friendship that we at times fought bitterly over political issues; we always laughed about it afterwards, knowing that our friendship could always survive such genuine disagreements.
In our period in prison we shared many private conversations that will forever remain between us. We knew a lot about each other, good and bad. I also discovered William knew very little about football- I convinced him to pay attention and watch Manchester United v Real Madrid in the European Cup, we argued long into the night over a red card shown to Nani and William’s failure to understand why I was “so worked up”.
He also enjoyed returning the cross-community ‘banter’ across the wing early in the morning. Often late into the night vile abuse would be shouted out the windows at both Willie and me. He would simply laugh and say goodnight, drifting off to sleep with the late-night howls of those throwing all kinds of threats and abuse in his direction. However not to be deterred, William was up at 6:30am “giving them a bit back”. Wondering why my cell was filled with William’s voice at such an hour, I asked- filled with expletives- what he was doing. His reply was classic William Frazer; “the tramps are on their drugs half the night and lie in their beds all day. Up and at them early and they don’t like it”. He had a way with words, I could do nothing but laugh as William cracked open another tin of coke.
Even then, it was obvious that William was suffering with illness, but he would never let it get on top of him or slow him down. He should never have been locked up in prison. On the same day he was remanded into custody on peaceful protest charges, prominent IRA man Sean Hughes was granted bail on terrorism charges; that disparity will forever be a stain on our justice system.
William’s work for IRA victims was his passion. He devoted much of his life to seeking justice for those murdered by the republican movement. He refused to tow the line with the ‘peace process’ narrative or to shape himself into an ‘acceptable’ kind of victim. He didn’t care about money, or status, or winning the plaudits of the great and the good; he cared about what was right.
That didn’t mean that William Frazer preferred conflict over peace; he did not. He wanted peace, but he fundamentally believed that true peace could only come when those who suffered at the hands of republican terrorism obtained justice. He refused to lie down and accept that IRA victims just had to swallow the re-writing of the past as the ‘price of peace’.
William Frazer’s family suffered more than most at the hands of IRA terrorism, and regardless of his strong personality, he was human. He lost his father and various other close family members; he hurt like every other person would hurt. That hurt drove him on in a relentless pursuit of justice, not just for his own family but for all victims of the IRA. That was a noble and just cause.
He was a leader that placed others above himself; William Frazer always came second to the needs of others. His many friends and acquaintances will tell you that and will undoubtedly share their stories, memories and tributes in the days and weeks ahead.
I remember meeting a well-known politician in Stormont not long after the flag protests. They said to me “you know we will still be in here in power, and Frazer will still be out there protesting in a caravan” (a reference I imagine to an earlier protest William had carried out). I said then what I still believe now, I’d rather be stood outside with Willie Frazer than be inside with those who could not have laced his boots.
In death many republicans took to social media to abuse Willie Frazer and to mock his passing. The man I knew wouldn’t have wanted it any other way; he wouldn’t want the sympathy of those he stood against his whole life. He died as he lived; brave, courageous, loyal and defiant until the end.
He adored his wife Anne and son Philip; he was a family man and would have done anything for them. I could almost guarantee that in his final days he would have worried more about his family, friends and fellow victims than about himself. That was the type of the man.
He never changed nor was swayed by the tide of popular opinion. He remained true to himself right until the end. He fought the good fight.
Tonight, Anne has lost a husband, Philip has lost a father, we have lost a friend and Ulster has lost one of her finest sons.
Farewell Willie Frazer- you were the greatest of them all.
Our Special Absent Friend.