The Missoula City Council, like many Missoulians, mourned the passing of local legend Hal Fraser at its Jan. 10 meeting. The 68-year-old civic leader and senior vice president of First Security Bank died unexpectedly in his University Avenue home earlier that day.
Ward 3's Stacy Rye choked up, saying, "We strive to be like him." Mayor John Engen carried with him a Fraser bobblehead created as a Missoula Osprey promotion in 2008. "'When they built you, brother, they broke the mold.' And that's Hal Fraser," Engen said, drawing from Bruce Springsteen's 2007 tune "Terry's Song."
The outpouring reflected the immeasurable impact Fraser had on the Missoula community. Without Fraser's shrewd yet visionary approach to banking, friends and associates agree this mountain town wouldn't be the groovy place it is.
Count Rockin Rudy's among the community cornerstones that form Fraser's legacy. Owner Bruce Micklus says Fraser proved "instrumental" in helping the store acquire its building off Higgins Street back in 1991.
"Had we not had this building and the opportunity to expand into new and different and various product lines, we probably would have gone the way of 99 percent of all the record stores that flourished in America in the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s," Micklus says.
They may not have seen eye to eye on Major League matters—Micklus is a Giants fan, Fraser cheered for the Dodgers—but Micklus always admired Fraser's "citizen spirit." He played a key role in helping the Missoula Children's Theatre find its current location, and worked with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency since its inception to stimulate downtown commerce.
"He was more than just a banker," Micklus says. "He was the spirit behind it."
Fraser even played a key role in starting this very paper. Indy co-founder Erik Cushman says Fraser provided a loan early on when few other lenders would have.
"We were idealistic, passionate, smart, but not experienced business people and not backed with a lot of capital," says Cushman, now publisher for the Monterey County Weekly in California. "We had to finagle collateral for him to make the loan, and he helped us with that."
Micklus and Cushman agree Fraser wasn't the type to simply write a blank check. He was, after all, a banker by trade. But he saw a clear vision for Missoula, one he helped make a reality.
"If he was here for another 10 years, I know we would have many, many other positive things in our community that I hope we can still accomplish," Micklus says. "But with Hal you knew it was going to happen."