Joe Fraser and me: Tribute to fishing friend and true pioneer

cdad@hiltonheadisland.netMarch 25, 2014 

University of Georgia's Vince Dooley sits with Joe Fraser after a successful day marlin fishing.

COURTESY OF COLLINS DOUGHTIE

When you think about the course of your life, what portion sticks out the most? If you say your childhood then you and I are not so different.

I know the old cliche is "times were simpler then" -- and maybe that is true for a lot of people -- but for those of us who were lucky to have parents who rolled the dice and moved to the Lowcountry before it became a famous resort (and before it was even known as "the Lowcountry"), times were not so simple. In fact, it was straight out of a Swiss Family Robinson novel, sans coconuts and pirates of course.

Oh, how everything has changed over the years. This past month it changed even more dramatically with the loss of Joe B. Fraser Jr.

Joe and his brother Charles were Hilton Head Island pioneers. If you ever had the pleasure of meeting them then you know they were about as different as different can be. Charles was quite the talker, while Joe was elegantly quiet -- but in those eyes of his you could see that he had a profound wisdom and a grand sense of humor.

I am not at all sure if I should tackle writing about the Joe I knew because time has a tendency to play tricks on one's memory. I sure hope I don't blow it.

When my dad, a big-time advertising executive on New York's Madison Avenue, loaded up all five kids in the family car and plopped us on Hilton Head in 1961, all his friends thought he had lost his marbles. There wasn't anything there.

Being the youngest of the five and only 6 years old at the time, I saw it as a grand adventure -- the only thing lacking was other kids to play with. So what did I do? You got it: I fished and I fished and I fished some more. As much as I loved fishing and dodging alligators and rattlesnakes, having some buds around to share in my adventures sure would have been nice.

Skip to 1965 when Joe and his wife Becky and their brood of four kids (Carolyn, the fifth child, wasn't born yet) moved to the island from Hinesville, Ga. Finally, kids to play with.

West and Charlie were closest to my age with Joe III and Simon being somewhat older. For years I spent a lot of time at the Frasers' house. The kids from both our families commuted to school in Savannah, which made for long days since all the roads were two lanes back then and all it took was a cow or horse on the road to make it even longer.

I've read most of the articles that have been written about Joe's life. So many revolved around golf and his involvement with the annual Heritage Classic tournament, but I think given the choice between golf or fishing, fishing would have won hands down with Joe.

If the Spanish mackerel were running, Joe would rather drag Clark spoons for them than just about anything. And trout? Armed with one of those long balsa wood corks and live shrimp, he would stand out on his dock at his home at Calibogue Cay in Sea Pines and fish for these speckled beauties until the cows came home.

It was fishing that connected Joe and me. During my teens, my dad and Joe would often take me along marlin fishing, as some sort of lucky shamrock with long hair. It was during those trips that I really got to see a whole different side of people, especially parents. There was a fair amount of cussing, story-telling, and a nip here and there -- always with a stern warning to me that "what goes on on the ranch, stays on the ranch."

One vivid memory occurred when a big marlin hit and Joe was trying to move the rod from the holder to the fighting chair. To keep from being pulled overboard, he had my dad holding him around the waist as they hop-scotched across the deck to the chair. One, two, one two ... it was priceless.

As I got older, it was our early mornings together trout fishing off his dock when I got to know the real Joe Fraser. I would sneak past his bedroom right about sunrise and try my best not to wake anyone by stepping on those damn crunchy magnolia leaves outside his window. He must have had super hearing because he would be next to me within minutes with coffee for the two of us. As we fished, we talked about kids, life and everything else under the sun.

Joe's passing really hit home for me. It seems there are so few of us left who had the incredible experience of being here before this area was developed.

I always regret when I fail to act on impulses when I should, but in Joe's case I have no regrets. Knowing his health was failing, I took the time to visit him on different occasions as his days left on this planet grew short. I said what I wanted to say and reminisced about our experiences together -- so for this wonderful man and me, all is good.

Until we meet again my friend, until we meet again.

God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.

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