A memorial service for Lady Marion Fraser is being held at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh on 9 February at 11am.
Lady Marion Fraser was a significant figure both within the University and in the wider world. She was the only woman from outside the Royal Family appointed to become a member of the Order of the Thistle, the highest chivalric order in Scotland. She also chaired several organisations such as Scottish Action on Mental Health, Scottish Churches Architectural Heritage Trust and Christian Aid.
Her connection with the University began in 1950 when she enrolled to study for an MA. She was an was active figure in student politics and was elected President of the Queen Margaret Union in 1953 whilst it was a women’s only union, standing on the ticket “Keep the Men’s Union Board out of our Hair”. In 1956 she married fellow student William Kerr Fraser, a former President of the Glasgow University Students’ Representative Council and later Principal and Chancellor of the University of Glasgow. During her husband’s University roles Lady Fraser helped to develop a sense of community and connection across campus with students and staff alike. The University recognised her efforts in 1995 when she was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. The value of her contributions to University life were made apparent in the speech at her oration, where the speaker stated that:
‘What more could any woman want than to be the mistress of the handsome stone Lodging of the Principal of Glasgow University, surrounded by a handsome, not too stony and sometimes obedient husband and devoted family, and to be the centre of the veneration of all the good people of the university community? Actually, quite a lot more. And it speaks volumes for Marion Fraser’s charm, common sense and raw courage that she has survived the gilded cage with immense integrity. She has actually contrived to enjoy the experience and to enrich the lives of a very large number of people in the process.’ – Part of the oration when Lady Fraser was awarded an Honorary LLD degree by the UofG in 1995
Lady Fraser received her honorary degree on Wednesday June 1995 in the Bute Hall alongside other notable figures such as Winnie Ewing, Simone Veil and Maya Angelou. Her degree was presented by George Newlands, who was Professor of Divinity at the time. In addition to her degree, the extension of the Hub/Refectory over 2007-09 was renamed the Fraser Building in honour of Lady Marion and Sir William.
Lady Fraser passed away on Christmas Day 2016 in Edinburgh, however her significant contributions to charity, church and the University will not be forgotten. You can read more about her remarkable achievements on her University Story page.
Below is the full text of her honorary degree oration:
UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW – COMMEMORATION DAY – 21 JUNE 1995
Mr Chancellor, by authority of the Senate I present to you this person on whom the Senate desires you to confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, Marion Anne Lady Fraser, M.A.
Mr Chancellor, What more could any woman want than to be the mistress of the handsome stone Lodging of the Principal of Glasgow University, surrounded by a handsome, not too stony and sometimes obedient husband and devoted family, and to be the centre of the veneration of all the good people of the university community? Actually, quite a lot more. And it speaks volumes for Marion Fraser’s charm, common sense and raw courage that she has survived the gilded cage with immense integrity. She has actually contrived to enjoy the experience and to enrich the lives of a very large number of people in the process.
Born in Glasgow in less than affluent circumstances, Marion moved from Hutcheson’s Girls Grammar School to Glasgow University, where she studied a number of subjects, but notably enjoyed music and zoology. She became president of the Queen Margaret Union, standing on the ticket “Keep the Men’s Union Board out of our Hair.” She was quite radical and just had to get involved in a stand up confrontation with the Senate, ditching the advisory committee of Professors’ wives, ‘these maternally paternalistic ladies’, as she called them in a recent open lecture. At the same time she fell deeply in love with a distinguished fellow student who was president of the SRC. And they lived happily ever after.
Ever after was to be quite hectic. There were busy years of raising a very close family and supporting them through the life of a husband’s civil service career, shuttled between Edinburgh and London. There was solid work for the Church of Scotland, as President of the local Woman’s Guild, the executive of the Guild, Interchurch Relations, Church and Nation. Sometimes outspoken, Lady Fraser has never been frightened to call a spade a spade, at least.
She developed a new interest in the visual arts, with the RSA and Scottish Opera. The Frasers visited India, and Marion was confronted and shattered by the reality of absolute poverty. From here there developed her involvement with Christian Aid. Soon she was back in Glasgow, confronted with the reality of impoverished professors, not to speak of their dreaded maternalistic paternalistic partners. Glasgow University was a dream, just occasionally a nightmare. The lodge was refurbished on an as you wait basis, polyfilla in the porridge was the daily reality. Marion got involved in the Ladies Club, in the work of the Settlement, (where she had organised the annual party back in 1951), in unobtrusive pastoral care for all sorts of people in a huge range of situations. She gave loads of enthusiasm and commitment. If sometimes she was not very well, you would never have known it.
The Lady Fraser has always maintained a strong belief in the existence of society. Appointment to the Chair of Christian Aid deepened her engagement with problems of desperate world poverty. An important figure in the world of international charity, recently she opened an entire new village in India. But when she came to speak at major events, like the assemblies of the CCBI, what people encountered was a genuine humility – no airs and graces. In 1994 and 1995 Lady Fraser was Her Majesty’s High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. She was nervous. She put in a mountain of preparation. When it came to it, she was wonderfully effective, in country-wide visits, in humanising the official hospitality, in making speeches of real distinction, consistently speaking up for those unable to speak for themselves. Again, when it came to it, her Grace was not afraid to say exactly what she meant.
There she is, Mr Chancellor a major public figure. But that is not I think how we will remember her in this university. We will remember her putting anxious parents at their ease at graduation coffees, quietly concerned for people going through a rough patch, through illness or stress or whatever, careful not to be too directive, never unmoved, and with a rich sense of fun never far away from her eye.
Mr Chancellor, I have very great pleasure in inviting you to confer the degree of Doctor of Laws upon a woman who represents the very highest traditions of the women graduates of this university, whom we are proud of and we love, Lady Fraser.