Beaufort News

Beaufort celebrates dignity, determination of Smokin' Joe Frazier

John Ferguson plays the "Star Spangled Banner" at the start of the  memorial service at  Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.
John Ferguson plays the "Star Spangled Banner" at the start of the memorial service at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Jonathan Dyer/The Beaufort Gazette

As a gentle breeze drifted across the Beaufort River, Jacqui Frazier Lyde could feel the presence of her famous father Wednesday as she spoke to about 300 people gathered in downtown Beaufort to pay their respects.

"I feel like, as the breeze is blowing ... my father's spirit is here," Lyde said from a lectern at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. "Because this is his home."

Friends, relatives and admirers of Joe Frazier attended a pair of local ceremonies Wednesday honoring the life and legacy of the former heavyweight boxing champ and Beaufort native. Born in Beaufort in 1944, he moved to Philadelphia at age 16. On Nov. 7, Frazier died at age 67 after a brief bout with liver cancer.

The day of remembrance began with a memorial service at Bethesda Christian Fellowship on St. Helena Island. Frazier's casket was not present as many had hoped.

Instead, two large photographs of him -- one taken after he won the Olympic gold medal in 1964 and the other of an older Frazier with his glittering, bulky heavyweight championship belt slung over his shoulder -- stood on easels beside several large floral arrangements near the pulpit.

From a nearby podium, Lyde, Frazier's niece and a cousin eulogized the man the world knew as "Smokin' Joe" but they knew affectionately as "Billy Boy."

Lyde, the third oldest of Frazier's 11 children and a municipal judge in Philadelphia, 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 earlier this week.

"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 hands. 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. 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."

Local officials and friends of Frazier's spoke about the former boxing great during a larger outdoor service hours later at the park in downtown Beaufort where Frazier appeared in September 2010 to receive the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian honor.

John Trask III, an organizer of the outdoor event, said Frazier's life was worthy of such a public show of respect.

"Dignity cannot be bestowed upon you like a championship belt," Trask said. "Dignity comes from within. Joe Frazier lived with dignity from the moment he arrived on this earth to the moment he left this earth. Determination and dignity were his one-two punch, and it was a knockout every time."

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Related content:

Frazier honored with Beaufort tribute, Senate resolution, Nov. 10, 2011

Beaufort friends: Frazier 'always answered the bell', Nov. 8, 2011