Honoring One Who Embraced The World

Christopher Queen, grandson of Alice Frazier, remembers his grandmother during her funeral. Frazier, a mainstay of the Marshall Heights neighborhood, died at 81 after a long illness.
Christopher Queen, grandson of Alice Frazier, remembers his grandmother during her funeral. Frazier, a mainstay of the Marshall Heights neighborhood, died at 81 after a long illness. (Kevin Clark - The Washington Post)
By Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 19, 2005

Alice Frazier showered everyone who showed up at her Marshall Heights home with big, arms-stretched-wide hugs that transferred to others her verve for life.

So when Queen Elizabeth II and first lady Barbara Bush popped in for a visit in 1991, Frazier didn't think it was a big deal when she wrapped her arms around the dignitaries. She didn't know -- and friends aren't sure she would have cared -- that the queen didn't do hugs and that such intimate touching was a serious breach of royal etiquette.

In the Frazier household, hugs went hand-in-hand with the offer to sit for a while and have something to eat or drink. Frazier became a spokeswoman for a community that was overrun by drug violence associated with crack cocaine, like many across the country.

Frazier, 81, died March 12 after a long illness. As friends and family members gathered yesterday at St. John Baptist Church to say goodbye, they celebrated her way. There were hugs all around, friends who showed up with food and fond remembrances of an incident that, for a moment, drew international attention and a moment of levity when it was sorely needed.

"There was a shooting every single night in this area," said former D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford, who represented Ward 7 at the time. The hugs with the queen and the first lady "brought more positive attention to this area than any other day. This woman changed things."

Frazier was born in Mooresville, N.C., and moved to Washington after she married Walter Frazier. She worked as a waitress and cook while raising her four children. Her specialties were potato salad and sweet potato pie, and, for fun, she worked crossword puzzles, watched game shows and read. Family members had a special nickname for her.

"I called her Dimples," said nephew Anthony Proctor, "because every time I saw her, she was smiling."

The pictures in the obituary program show Frazier hugging a smiling Queen Elizabeth, then smiling alongside Crawford as she received an award, then outside her home waving to adoring fans and neighbors who were happy to see someone they knew capture the limelight. The Hug, as it was dubbed at the time, gained so much attention that Crawford organized a trip for Frazier, her daughter Betty Queen and 53 Washington area residents, including 30 junior high students, to England. It was her first trip out of the country.

"There are so many beautiful things to see -- the scenery, the buildings, the churches," she told The Washington Post during the visit. "I'll have a whole lot to talk about when I get home."

All these years later, residents are still wistful about the moment. Then, as now, Ward 7 was one of the city's poorest, and Queen Elizabeth's visit was the first time a visiting head of state had traveled to that part of the city. Frazier was selected because she was the owner of a new home on Drake Place SE that had been developed by the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization. The group's interim director and chief executive officer, Carrie Thornhill, has been involved with the organization the entire time.

"We had to be here because she made our organization famous all over the world," said Thornhill, whose group is still trying to develop affordable housing. "Prices are rising so fast that the gap between the cost of housing and the ability of low- and middle-income residents to afford housing is a huge challenge."

Frazier was living at the Washington Nursing Facility when she died. And it was clear that her funeral -- despite her fleeting connection to British royalty -- was a more common affair. There was no police escort, no cameras and little hoopla as friends and family members gathered -- bearing aluminum pans of food -- to say a simple goodbye to a humble woman.

"She was," Crawford said, "just a genuine southern lady."

Christopher Queen, grandson of Alice Frazier, remembers his grandmother during her funeral. Frazier, a mainstay of the Marshall Heights neighborhood, died at 81 after a long illness.

Alice Frazier drew international attention in 1991 when she received a visit from -- and gave a hug to -- Queen Elizabeth II.

Frazier became a spokeswoman for a community overrun by drug violence.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company