They called it a homecoming celebration for Smokin’ Joe. More than 200 friends, relatives and admirers of Joe Frazier gathered Wednesday morning at the Bethesda Christian Fellowship Church on Martin Luther King Dr. on St. Helena to honor the former heavyweight boxing champ and Beaufort native. Frazier died last week in Philadelphia after a brief bout with liver cancer at age 67.
Frazier’s body was not on display Wednesday. Instead, two large photographs of him stood on easels beside several large floral arrangements near the pulpit.
From a nearby lectern, Frazier’s daughter, niece and a cousin eulogized the man the world knew as “Smokin’ Joe” but they knew affectionately as “Billy Boy.”
Jacqui Frazier Lyde, the third oldest of Frazier’s 11 children, tearfully told the congregation what her father wore and how he looked in his coffin before being laid to rest in Philadelphia after a star-studded, two-hour funeral there earlier this week.
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“I looked at my father and saw something that I’d never seen before. He had an innocence in his eyes when they were closed,” Lyde said. “They were peaceful. I looked at his hands, and they were working hand. They looked like they had so much power in them.
The power of his hands and the innocence in his eyes was a contradiction.
“My father didn’t just fight for his children,” Lyde added. “He was fighting for his cousins, and his aunts and uncles. He was fighting for Beaufort. He was fighting for South Carolina. He was fighting for the United States, but most of all, he was fighting for God.”
Frazier will be honored again at noon at a public memorial service at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.
The ceremony will start with an invocation and end with a benediction from Kenneth C. Doe, pastor of Bethesda Christian Fellowship, who also delivered the eulogy at the funeral service.
In between, family and friends will have an opportunity to speak about Frazier.
Several notable figures from professional boxing have been invited, but it is not known how many would travel to Beaufort because some already paid their respects Monday in Philadelphia, organizers said.
To view the program for the upcoming service at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, click here.
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.