By Mary Thurwachter
OCEAN RIDGE — At Florida Atlantic University, where Heather Turner Frazer taught for 35 years, she was known as the history department’s moral compass — the woman who always knew the right thing to do and how to do it. Even 10 years after she retired in 2006, her colleagues, when faced with difficult decisions, frequently asked themselves, “What would Heather do?” They even had “WWHD” T-shirts made in her honor when she retired.
Mrs. Frazer was the only woman in FAU’s history department for 17 years and took it upon herself to mentor every woman who joined the department after her. The first was Sandy Norman, who arrived in 1988.
“She was my mentor and my best friend,” said Norman, who was with Mrs. Frazer, 75, when she died at her Ocean Ridge home on May 15 after a long battle with breast cancer.
“We traveled together. We researched together, and I am the godmother to her third child. She and her husband practically adopted me. I’ve been a close member of the family for 28 years.”
Norman said her friend loved laughter. “She was this 5-foot-2 woman with twinkly blue eyes that could turn stone gray in a heartbeat, although that didn’t happen often. She had a way of getting her way. If she went into a meeting and there was a jerk in the room, by the time the meeting was over she would have him agreeing with her. Heather made everybody a better person.”
Mrs. Frazer, who also had a home in Northeast Harbor, Maine, was born on Nov. 25, 1940, in Honolulu.
Her parents were James Sinclair Turner and Virginia Heathcote Turner. Her father was in Hawaii to work on installations at Pearl Harbor for his father’s firm, Turner Construction Co. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, she was building sand castles on the beach in northern Oahu.
When her father joined the Marine Corps in 1943, the family moved back to Massachusetts, where Mrs. Frazer graduated from the Cambridge School of Weston and Connecticut College before receiving an MA and Ph.D. in South Asian history from Duke University.
In an obituary Mrs. Frazer wrote herself, she said that her “early exposure to a significant historical event influenced my decision to become a history professor.”
After Duke, she spent three years in England, where she had two children and completed research for her doctoral dissertation. She had her third child after moving to Florida to take a job in the history department at FAU. She was one of the founders of the women’s studies program at FAU.
Her research and publications were about India, women’s history and oral history. But she took the greatest pleasure, she wrote, in “teaching and trying to inspire a love of learning in my students.”
Besides teaching, Mrs. Frazer was on the boards of Gulf Stream School, Old School Square in Delray Beach, the Ocean Club of Florida and the vestry of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach. She was a trustee of the Northeast Harbor Library, a member and president of The Garden Club of Mount Desert, and a vestry member of the Parish of St. Mary and St. Jude on Mount Desert Island, Maine.
“She never said no to giving back,” Norman said.
Mrs. Frazer enjoyed traveling and being with her extended family, especially her grandchildren.
She was married for 12 years to Patrick Coughlan. They had three children — Kimberly Gilmour, Devon Coughlan and Carter Coughlan. After their divorce, she was married for 32 years to Persifor “Perky” Frazer, who died in 2008.
Besides her children and their spouses, Mrs. Frazer is survived by five stepchildren, Persifor “Pokey,” David, Randal, Lucius and Sloan, as well as their spouses, six grandchildren, 12 stepgrandchildren, her brother, Jeffrey H. Turner, and her sister, Lisa Phillips Turner.
On the day she died, Mrs. Frazer, an avid Boston Red Sox fan, was listening to a baseball game on an iPhone with Norman. She died right after Xander Bogaerts hit a three-run homer, Norman said. “I think she rode that baseball right out of Fenway Park.”
A memorial service was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on May 23.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Gulf Stream School, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the scholarship committee of the Northeast Harbor Library or the Parish of St. Mary and St. Jude in Northeast Harbor, Maine.
By Mary Thurwachter