The man with a line for every occasion, except his final one
At the Academy Awards show of 1976, an Ottawa film company won for best documentary feature ( The Man Who Skied Down Everest) and, in accepting the award, the company owner-founder dropped a one-liner.
“This is an American award for a Canadian film about a Japanese adventurer who skied down a mountain in Nepal.”
The line was spoken by Frank “Budge” Crawley, but insiders suspected then, and still do, that it was created by Crawley Films general manager Graeme Fraser. Recog- nized internationally as a skilled communicator, he was a firm believer in brevity, and developed one-liners as attention grabbers.
Robert Graeme Fraser died last week at the age of 94. His brother, Keith, in his eulogy expressed surprise that Graeme hadn’t left notes and one-liners for his own funeral. To those who knew Mr. Fraser, it meant he probably thought he was going to survive the broken hip. There were complications.
He died at The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic campus, days after being admitted after a fall. He joked with paramedics when they picked him up at his west-side home, saying he would accept a ride only to “my” hospital. After 13 years as a trustee on the Civic board, he had a right to claim some ownership.
Raised in the Glebe, he was an artillery officer in the Sec- ond World War and survived the hard going from the beaches of Normandy through France, Belgium and Holland.
Having been too close too often to explosions, his hearing failed in later life and it was considered a war injury.
He was a pioneer of media relations, from the days it was called public relations. His skill in that field helped Crawley grow to be Canada’s biggest film production company. In 1982, it was sold and became Atkinson Film Art.
Public relations is the art of building a positive image for a company or a cause, and getting space in mainstream media through news, rather than advertising.
That meant attracting the attention of reporters, and that meant putting out invitations to an open bar.
There were differences to a Crawley invitation. It meant one would not be wasting one’s time. Mr. Fraser didn’t pour drinks unless there was a message worth the trip. A dapper man, he was also a master shmoozer.
Keith described his brother, seven years older, as a master salesman, with a humour he called “waggish.”
As a 45-year Rotary Club member, Graeme could claim he, as president, presided over the best turnout the club ever had at a regular meeting.
He sat down days earlier and wrote a personal note to every member, telling them they were expected to be in the receiving line at the meeting. He just didn’t tell them which side of the line.
While at Crawley’s he produced a monthly news bulletin. It was mailed to a select list of 3,500, and it was well read. He used gags and one-liners scattered through the company news, forcing readers to be careful or miss a grinner/groaner. His volunteerism was epic. Over the years he served as president of the United Way, Canadian Club, Civic Hospital, Canadian Film and Television Association, Canadian Advertising and Sales Federation, Ottawa Visitors and Convention Bureau, and Red Cross. That’s only a partial list.
He was invited to Russia to speak on film production, and in retirement taught public speaking and public relations. He was busy as a master of ceremonies at formal events, and as snapshots of his life played at the Hulse, Playfair & McGarry main chapel Friday, they showed he spent a lot of time in tuxedos and dinner jackets.
People he shared space with in those photos included Prince Charles, Prince Philip, Roland Michener, Pierre Trudeau, and the people most important to him — his family, which included many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He had a knack for making the mundane memorable. For a handshake, he often used his left hand. Meeting him for the first time could be a surprise and most of us who experienced it would take back the right hand and extend the left, thinking he had a problem.
But he would pull you close and explain. “For people I like or want to be friends, I use the left hand. It’s closer to the heart.”
Over the years as a columnist I used many of his puns and oneliners, always giving credit. They were original or there would have been complaints. Some samples:
Retirement takes all the fun out of Saturdays … One Mensa member to another: “Who was that I saw you outwit last night?” … There’s a disease so rare doctors haven’t decided what to charge for it … By the time we can afford to lose golf balls, we can’t hit far enough to lose them … Bachelors are like detergents. They work fast and leave no rings … If looks could kill, many would die with bridge cards in their hands ... Husbands have to learn to stay calm, cool and corrected … Love is grand. Divorce is 100 grand … Bored? Write a short story using alphabet soup.
Along with being a master PR man, Graeme Fraser gave much of his time to a long list of charitable causes. He died last week at the age of 94.