Born with a form of dwarfism, Colleen Fraser stood less than 4 feet tall. She walked with a cane, which she would shake wildly to make a point. Often that point was making the world friendlier to people with disabilities. Fraser clearly had a flair for it.
"She was a firebrand," said longtime friend Ethan Ellis, executive director of the New Jersey Developmental Disabilities Council.
Fraser, 51, of Elizabeth, N.J., was vice chair of the council and served in other organizations for the disabled.
She was aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania.
In 1989, when she heard that New Jersey's U.S. senators were undecided about supporting the Americans with Disabilities Act, she loaded about a dozen disabled individuals aboard a bus and rode to both senators' offices to get their support.
Fraser fashioned her flaming red hair into spikes like a punk rocker and wore numerous earrings. She wore open-toed sandals with orthopedic lifts. She liked gothic novels and horror movies. She was a wood carver and loved to bake.
She was also a passionate and tireless advocate. In fact, Fraser was flying to a grant-writing seminar when she died.
"I think there's a certain delicious irony that a small person like Colleen has given a small state such a big voice," Ellis said.
Profile courtesy of THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.
Colleen Fraser, 51, advocate for disabled
Born with a condition that made her legs grow deformed, Colleen Fraser endured seemingly endless months in hospitals undergoing more than 30 painful operations to straighten them.
In casts from the waist down and confined to bed for much of her childhood, Ms. Fraser, vice chairwoman of the New Jersey Disabilities Council, later drew on those experiences to become the top advocate in New Jersey for people with disabilities.
"She had always been a strong voice for the proposition that people with disabilities should speak for themselves and not be spoken for," said Ethan Ellis, director of the council.
Ms. Fraser, who was employed as director of the Progressive Center for Independent Living Inc., a nonprofit advocacy group, was one of the 38 passengers killed on United Airlines Flight 93 in a terrorist hijacking last Tuesday. She was 51.
The lifelong Elizabeth resident was on her way to a five-day grant-writing conference in Reno, Nev., when her plane was hijacked in mid-air and crashed in a grassy field in Somerset County, Pa., said her sister, Christine Fraser.
"She certainly made the state look at how we treat disabled people," her sister said. "We tend to house them in institutions. Colleen showed them those types of things don't work."
After graduating from Rutgers University, where she studied English literature, Ms. Fraser took a job as a case manager with Community Access Unlimited, an advocacy group in Elizabeth for people with disabilities. She served as director of DIAL Inc., a center for independent living in Clifton. She also was director of Union County's Office of the Disabled.
Besides her sister, Christine, also of Elizabeth, Ms. Fraser is survived by a brother, Bruce Fraser of Ohio, and her stepmother, Gladys Fraser of Keansburg; two step-sisters, Barbara Williams of Elizabeth and Kay Roy of Schnecksville, Pa.; five step-brothers, Luke and Michael Boyle, both of San Diego, Calif.; Mark Boyle of Wyoming; Thomas Boyle of Dothan, Ala., and John Boyle of Keansburg, and several nieces and nephews.
The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Progressive Center for Independent Living in Ewing Township.
A memorial service will be held Friday at 2 p.m. at Mount Teman AME Church, 160 Madison Ave., Elizabeth, for family and friends. A second service will be held at the church on Sept. 29 at 1:30 p.m. for those in the disabled community who supported Ms. Fraser.
Profile by MaryAnn Spoto published in THE STAR-LEDGER.