Will Provisions--Barbara and David Fraser '65
David Fraser '65 remembers his father offering him only one piece of life advice, and it was about Haverford. Grant Fraser '36 told his son to "get to know the athletes." David recalls, "I think he thought that they were more well rounded than other folks. He played baseball, basketball and football and believed combining mental and physical activity was essential to developing the whole person; that, perhaps, being around athletes would broaden my education." As it turns out, David's freshman roommate proved to be a superb athlete, so heeding his father's advice came easily. "In time, my son Evan played cricket. I don't know if this was to tease his grandfather and father—the baseball players—but he also combined academics and athletics with great results."
For David, who played on the Haverford baseball team (and remembers what a good sport Greg Kannerstein '63 was when David beat him for the coveted first base position), this turned out to be prescient counsel. Today, the epidemiologist famous for solving the mystery of Legionnaires' Disease and having served as the 12th President of Swarthmore College travels the world as an international educational consultant and plies his craft as an artist, together with wife Barbara Fraser in their Yardley, PA, home filled with the art and artifacts of richly textured, well-rounded lives.
After majoring in biology at Haverford, David attended Harvard Medical School and completed an internship and residency in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. While in medical school, he married Barbara Gaines, Bryn Mawr '65, whom he met while at Haverford. Three years later, during his internship and when the young couple was living at Haverford Park Apartments, which at the time were not on Haverford's campus, their son Evan was born. After two years at Penn, David went to work for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the Epidemic Intelligence Service. He later returned to Philadelphia to serve as the chief medical resident for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
"This was a watershed time," David recalls. "After the completion of my residency and an infectious disease fellowship at Penn, I had to choose between academic medicine and public health. I chose the latter." Entering public service ended up being an historic decision.
During a second stint with the CDC, David led the team that identified Legionnaires' Disease as the epidemic plaguing attendees of a 1976 American Legion convention at the then Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. And he later received national recognition for his research on toxic shock syndrome.
The Fraser family, which now included daughter Leigh, was based in Atlanta until 1980, when Barbara, who earned her law degree at Emory, received a job offer from the Securities and Exchange Commission. "She ‘invited' me to join her in DC," jokes David. "So I took a position in the health branch of the Office of Management and Budget, working for a fellow who had gone to Swarthmore." This alumnus eventually nominated David for the Swarthmore presidency, a role he assumed in 1982 and held for nine years.
David and Barbara's time at Swarthmore reconnected them with their respective alma maters. Their son Evan attended Haverford from 1987-1991, and Barbara rekindled her relationship with Bryn Mawr President Mary Patterson McPherson. (When Barbara was an undergraduate, McPherson was the Warden in the adjoining dorm.) Barbara was the first – and, to date, only – working first spouse of Swarthmore. "Pat [McPherson] was very supportive of my decision not to be a traditional college president's wife, and I found that very helpful. David hired someone to fill many of the social obligations, and I participated as often as work and parenthood permitted."
While at Swarthmore, David also had the opportunity to reflect on his own time at Haverford. "I wrote a paper when I was president on graduates of Haverford, Swarthmore and Franklin & Marshall who had gone into medicine. I found there were a lot of graduates who had my feeling, who wish they'd taken less physics, chemistry and biology and more literature, history and art. I wish I'd been a philosophy major. That would have been a much better preparation for medical school. A broader liberal arts education is very important for the professions as well as for just being a whole person."
Following their Swarthmore tenure, the Frasers headed to Paris, where for almost five years David ran the health, education and housing programs of the Aga Khan Secretariat. Again, Haverford connections had played a role, since David recommended his classmate and former Haverford President Tom Kessinger '65, to head the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. (Coincidentally, Tom was the reason Barbara chose Bryn Mawr years ago after she heard him speak at her high school about the Bi-Co.) The Frasers lived in Paris for three years before moving back to the Philadelphia area when Barbara had the opportunity to take a position with Merrill Lynch. For the next year and a half David commuted to Paris.
"I eventually settled in the U.S. again as the head of the International Clinical Epidemiology Network out of Philadelphia," he explains. "Since 2000, I've been on my own consulting – and making funny baskets," David says self-deprecatingly.
Woven into David's and Barbara's professional histories is an intense love of fiber art and craft. When working on a CDC project in Cairo, David developed an interest in textiles that has evolved over the years into a second career as a textile scholar and basket maker.
The author of two books on textiles – the second coauthored with Barbara, whose interest in hand craft predates their marriage – he has also been selected to participate in the prestigious 2010 Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show as one of 11 basket entrants. "Swarthmore faculty used to kid me about being a basket maker president," recalls David. "But my work in fiber arts allows me to bring together art, intellectual skill and an interest in cultural issues in ways that might be harder if my training had been narrower." Among other involvements and accomplishments, David curated an exhibition of rare Asian textiles at Haverford in 2007 with Haverford Professor of Anthropology Maris Gillette.
David credits his Haverford years for his expanded worldview. "Taking my father's advice, I did get to know the athletes, but my liberal arts education was just as key in preparing me for life," David reflects. "It undergirds everything I've done professionally and is so fundamental to preparing people for an unpredictable, always changing world. My success in the Legionnaires' Disease experience depended more on my liberal arts education than on my medical training. This disease was unknown, so I couldn't get answers from a book. Rather, I had to know how knowledge is constructed, the elements of a solid argument and what evidence can be weighed, assessed, believed—all of which comes from liberal arts, not technical training."
Most recently, the weighing of information led the Frasers to set up a will provision for Haverford. "Financially, we're in a position to see that we'll have some resources at the end that are more than we need. We have taken seriously what kind of effect we want these resources to have after our deaths," David says. "As someone who's worked in a lot of different organizations, I believe a well-governed institution, with an important mission and appropriate processes in place to adapt, will use these resources wisely long after we lose control of them." Adds Barbara, "David, his father and our son all went to Haverford. The College has been very important to our family so naturally it figured into our giving."