Billy Fraser, Body Builder

Billy Fraser, Body Builder
Billy Fraser in his trophy room

Billy Wilson Fraser still sports his trademark long white hair, Paul Newman-blue eyes and a positive, energetic personality at 85. He immediately shared the fact that despite his current 5-feet-3-inch height he was all of 5 feet 6 inches during his prime.

Billy Fraser, Body Builder

Billy Fraser poses in his favorite custom-made costume, including a Viking helmet, animal skins and a 300-year-old ax.

There is just something about this senior gentleman who was once a champion bodybuilder that has nothing to do with height. In Hollywood they refer to that elusive quality of magnetism, as the “It” factor. Fraser’s “It” factor – plus intelligence, determination, discipline and athleticism – are attributes that have distinguished the Murray Hill native.

  Fraser drew attention early, even while a member of Boy Scout Troop #27, which met at Murray Hill Baptist Church. When he was 12, he attended a Boy Scout Jamboree in Silver Springs with hundreds of other boys. A movie director saw how fast he swam and cast him in the movie “Swamp Angel.”

“They wanted the fastest swimmer and that was me. They liked my long hair, which I’ve always had, except in the military,” he said. “The part I hated was when they made me get a permanent to curl my hair. The fun part was playing the role of actor Michael Conrad (1925-1983) as a young boy, [Emmy-winner Conrad was best known for his role in the hit series “Hill Street Blues”]. They tied a rope around my waist, tossed me into the water and told me to swim as fast as I could. Then they turned a 12-foot alligator loose. When it got too close, they yanked me out of the water. I had a chaperone, missed six weeks of school and made $25 per day. I thought I was rich!”

Fraser is a U.S. Navy veteran and a 38-year trouble-shooter for Southern Bell, Bell South and then AT&T. After he retired in 1983 at age 52, he owned five gyms, and focused on bodybuilding, competing, and training other elite men and women bodybuilders.

Of all he has done, he said his competitive bodybuilding career has meant the most. Fraser has been featured in books, magazines, national advertising and television campaigns in the U.S. and abroad. By age 69 he had won 180 amateur titles and continued competing into his 70s. At home he is surrounded by towering trophies and amazing photos that record his incredible physique over 50 years of bodybuilding.

“Besides my family, bodybuilding has been the most important thing in my life,” Fraser said. “I started weightlifting at age 16 when my friend Charlie Dorman’s father Frank, let us use his weights. I was hooked. I asked my father for a set of weights for Christmas and that’s what I got: 200 pounds of weights. I carried them with me everywhere, even in my Navy sea bag on my back – they were so heavy.”

Billy Fraser, Body Builder

Sandra and Billy in 2011 at daughter Nichole’s wedding

When Fraser was 17, Robert Lee “Bob” Stange, a Cedar Hills bodybuilder and winner of several state bodybuilding competitions, started training Fraser and other area boys. Stange became Fraser’s mentor; he owned the first set of Olympic weights Fraser had ever seen.  Stange, who was a machinist, continued to body build into his 70s until his death at 80 in 1999.

“My friend, Mickey Lewis, had an outdoor gym in his backyard in Fairfax Manor where we worked out together. We used all free weights and built our own machines,” Fraser said. “We had a team of young weightlifters and our Coach was Cy Crawford who owned Crawford’s Bookmine …me, Mickey, Ralph Hochman, Richard McLaughlin, Harold Thompson, Gene Hill and the Salamy twins, Joe and Al. We competed in weightlifting competitions.”

Fraser went on to compete in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU ) bodybuilding competitions and also in National Physique Committee (NPC) competitions. His first bodybuilding competition in 1954 at age 23 was a disappointment; he placed fourth in the Mr. Florida competition. That experience lit a fire in Fraser. He trained even harder and placed second in 1955. In the early 1960s Fraser won his class for the first of five Mr. Florida competitions that he would win. When he won his last Mr. Florida title in 1998 at age 67, he was the oldest to ever compete.

“The guy who placed second said to me, ‘How do I go home and tell everyone I was beaten by a 67-year-old man?’ He was 28,” Fraser said, laughing.

Fraser also won the Mr. America Bodybuilding Competition three times during his long career. In 1991 he won the highest level of amateur competition: the NPC Men’s Nationals Bodybuilding Competition in West Palm Beach, FL. He won both the Masters Titles for ages 50-plus and the 60-plus category.  He is especially proud of winning the 1996 inaugural Grand Masters NPC Southern States Bodybuilding Competition held in Ft. Lauderdale; he was the oldest national qualifier in the U.S. that year.

Fraser was born January 1, 1931 to Harry and Gladys (Wilson) Fraser in their home at 1190 Edgewood Avenue, adjacent to their business Murray Hill Shoe Repair, Dry Cleaning & Laundry. He and his neighbor Joe Fucco used to climb Edgewood Avenue’s huge oak trees as high as they could go, then descend by jumping from limb to limb. Fraser isn’t sure how they survived their aerial gymnastics.

Fraser’s elder and only sibling, Betty Ann, died at age 48. She was married to Edward Hugo, Sr. of Hugo Interior Design & Fine Furnishings and they had three children. 

In 1938 when Fraser was seven, his parents built a new home at 855 Murray Drive where he remembers being beaten up every day by his neighbor, the terrible Miss Olive Wales. She was his age and came to his house daily to torment him until she got caught. Fraser forgave her because she later grew up to be a beauty.

His other friends were the Warren family’s 12 children. His best friend was Warren Warren who was his age. Fraser swears that was his real name but has forgotten Warren’s middle name. Fraser fell in love with Miss Margaret Warren who was several years older than the boys and didn’t give them the time of day, he says.

The last home Fraser lived in with his parents was on Brierfield Drive near Post Street when he attended Lee High School. His buddies on Brierfield were Jimmy and Grady Henderson

Billy Fraser, Body Builder

Left, standing, Coach Cy Crawford; center, holding Olympic weights, Robert Stange; far right, Billy Fraser, circa 1956, at the corner of Hamilton Street and St. Johns Avenue.

He left school during his senior year in 1949 to join the U.S. Navy. He served as a boatswain’s mate striker for six years, graduating while in the military. He served on the San Diego-based USS Miller – DD535 Destroyer and on the Gunston Hall LSD dock-landing transport ship. After his discharge in Norfolk, Virginia he was given a one year, Naval Temporary Additional Duty (TAD), to run a gym for the Navy in Norfolk.

After he returned to Jacksonville, Fraser met beautiful Sandra (Ezell) Fraser Murray, his friend Clayton Ezell’s sister. They married in 1959 and had four children: David, 55, of Arizona; Michael, 52, of Jacksonville, who died in a tragic industrial accident in April 2016; Kym Graziano, 48, of Chicago and Nichole Tenchavez, 36, of Orange Park. The three surviving children are all married, there are four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The Frasers divorced in the mid-eighties, but stay in touch. Although two of their children live out of state, the family is very close.

His daughter Kym Graziano shared fond memories of their family tubing at Ichetucknee Springs, traveling to North and South Carolina every autumn to see the leaves, and lakeside camping in Maggie Valley, NC. The Frasers enjoyed highly entertaining family games.

“We always played volleyball or softball together and Dad was tricky…he would step up to the plate positioned as a right batter, then switch quickly to the other side and bat left handed, or vice versa, it was hilarious,” she said.

Fraser also had other hobbies, including a passion for UF Gator games, (he has attended every home game for 20 years) and a love of convertible cars. His favorite was his customized robin-egg blue, XK120 Jaguar Roadster with a Corvette engine that could reach 140 mph. He and Sandra loved flowers and plants. They owned Sugar Bear Nursery & Flowers on Kingsley Avenue for several years.

These days the man who has been called an inspiration to bodybuilders of any age continues to inspire and coach others informally on fitness, exercise and diet. Fraser still follows his strict seven-day-a-week fitness regimen: 3:30 a.m. – 5:30 a.m., gym equipment workout, followed by more exercises off the equipment, then he showers, skips breakfast, goes to walk one or two hours outside and is done by 10:30 a.m. Then he enjoys phone calls and visits from friends and relatives, and especially looks forward to group family vacations and holidays.


By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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