Monday, July 18, 2016

Remembering Joan

In late May we lost a very dear member of our family.

Joan was a cousin to my father-in-law, Carl. They have a long history growing up together and traveling and they exemplify the delightful McMillin trait of treating friends and extended family like next of kin. My first introduction to Joan was only a day or so before Brian and I were married. There was no doubt in Brian's mind that Joan would be the one to marry us and since she and Ross had to travel from New York to Minnesota, that was to be the first time we would meet.

I knew right away that Joan would always have a special place in our hearts and over the years as we got to know each other better, this feeling was only magnified.

Joan went on to marry both of Brian's siblings, Keith (and Liz) and then Heather (and Aaron).

Joan was an infinitely interesting woman having worn many hats over the years. At various stages she was a geologist, archaeologist, priest, artist and designer. We particularly enjoyed sharing stories of our winding career paths and even found an intersection in sustainability issues. Joan represented the Episcopal church at the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and also the UN Commission on the Status of Women. She cared deeply about social issues and was a trusted guide and mentor for so many people who were fortunate enough to cross her path. 

My fondest memories of Joan are in conversations we shared about current events and books worth reading. From poverty and social injustices to women's issues and environmental topics, we had much in common. I shall miss our conversations on the horrors of fracking from a geological perspective and her many tales from travels near and far. I'll miss the way she always saw the best in my children even when they were being difficult or precocious. And the many times that she saw me nearing the end of my parenting rope and knew to offer the perfect amount of encouragement or just a shoulder on which to cry. 

Joan shared a love of gems and rocks and beading and on our annual summer holiday, she always came equipped with many boxes of beading supplies to share with Heather and Liz and I. All of us thoroughly enjoyed the conversations we were able to have while the dads watched the kids so that we could arrange beads, crimp wires and share stories. None of us will soon forget the time last summer when Liz had arranged a perfectly lovely selection of colorful beads on her felt board and Joan looked over to make a comment about those beads not going together at all. We looked at one another puzzled because the color combination seemed just fine, but Joan the geologist couldn't fathom putting those particular stones together as never ever would they be found next to one another underground!

I've spent some time collecting photos over the weeks since her passing and as there were far too many to post individually, I've created the slideshow below as a McMillin tribute to our dear Joan.

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Also worth sharing is this beautiful compilation of Joan's words of relationship wisdom, edited by Brian with excerpts from Heather and Aaron's wedding in 2012. Fetch some tissues and listen HERE.

A few others have written so eloquently about their relationship with Joan and her impact on them and others, that I've requested permission to include their remarks here.

From Peter DeBartolo, cousin once removed:

This past week, a dear family member and friend of mine passed away. Her name was Joan Grimm Fraser, and she was one of the most kindred spirits I've had the privilege of knowing in my adult life. She was an amazing woman who led a trail-blazing life, and I will miss her deeply.
She was one of the first women ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church and dedicated her entire professional life to making the church, society, and our world more inclusive places, especially for those from communities that have been historically marginalized, dispossessed, and oppressed. She represented the International Atlantic Province of the Episcopal Church at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women – the principal global intergovernmental body that is “instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.” She was a life-long advocate of human rights and social justice for all people, even during times when it was unpopular and dangerous, and she never let others' inability to see the value of others prevent her from appreciating and affirming the intrinsic worth and potential of all members of the human family. Her mind was intricate and complex, as she often saw things others didn't, and had the foresight and vision to see beyond current horizons into what things could be; her heart contained multitudes and held both the pain and promise of many. As one speaker at her funeral put it, “she was possibility...and she made others possible.”
Throughout her life, she was a world traveler, teacher, priest, geologist, archaeologist, adjunct university professor, storyteller, and friend and mentor to many. She was an insightful and wise soul who always understood the need for continual progress and improvement on the social and human levels, and was adamant that we need not continue to participate in unjust or unsustainable traditions or systems just because those before us always have. She believed in the power of people, especially women, to change the world for the better, and she lived a life of humble firmness, thoughtfulness, and dignity in the pursuit of opening new doors for those to come after her.
I don't believe that a life or legacy like Joan's ever really ends. Rather, it is carried on in the lives, hearts, and memories of all those whom she touched, loved, fought for, and taught. As it said in yesterday's funeral liturgy, perhaps our physical death is not actually so final; maybe it's just our next transformation – a time when “life is changed, not ended.”

From Lynne Wilson Christman, cousin:

Remembering my dearest cousin, Joan, who went home to The Lord this morning. It is rare in life that we are privileged to grow up with, and retain a relationship with someone like Joan. She had a strong connection with, and love of family. Her superior intellect, keen sense of humor, love of story telling, insightful, and sage advice on most any situation, and her genuine love of children, though she hadn't any if her own, were cornerstones of her personality. She was an archaeologist, a geologist, and an Episcopal priest. She had recently worked with a group at the United Nations, on behalf of women. She enjoyed jewelry making, and taught my daughter, Lilly, and my granddaughter, Allison to do beading jewelry on a visit, several years ago. She went out of her way to come to Carnegie Hall just to see Lilly perform with the Children's Festival Choir in NYC, a couple of years ago. To have an almost 70 year history with someone is remarkable by any standard, but to have that relationship affect you, and your family in so many ways, both light-hearted, and profound, is truly amazing, in retrospect. Today I grieve for my own loss, but I rejoice to know that we will spend time together with The Lord in eternity. Thank you Joan, for your love, care, support, and loyalty, all these years.

Joan was one of those wise and feisty women who showed the rest of us how to live authentically and with a giant dose of compassion. A change maker, a prolific storyteller and a compassionate listener, she leaves a legacy that will carry on in those whose lives she touched. While our time together was far too short, I should hope that all of us can carry the light and the kindness and the devotion that she modeled and spread her goodness and love far and wide.

You are forever in our hearts dearest Joan.


Lastly, I'm pasting in a copy of her obituary (originally posted here) because I think it so beautifully captures so many of her accomplishments and I'd like to have it saved for posterity.

RIP: Joan P. Grimm Fraser, pioneering Episcopal priest

May 25, 2016

[Episcopal Diocese of Long Island] The Rev. Joan P. Grimm Fraser, an Episcopal priest and leading spokesperson on women’s issues in church and society has died.
The province includes six dioceses in New York, two dioceses in New Jersey and the off-shore dioceses of Haiti, the Virgin Islands and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. About the UNCSW she had said, “It is an opportunity to give a voice to women here and abroad who don’t have a voice” about health, poverty and justice.
The Rt. Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano, bishop of Long Island, said, “Each of us will miss Joan’s great spirit and faithful, thoughtful counsel. She was a pioneer in our church and one of the wisest, most faithful priests I have ever known.”
There will be a Requiem Eucharist May 27 at 11 am, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, New York. Provenzano will preside.
The Fraser family has provided the following biographical details.
The Rev. Joan P. Grimm Fraser, one of the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church, and a geologist, has died at the age of 68. Mother Joan, as she was known to parishioners at Holy Trinity Parish in Hicksville, New York where she served as rector since 2004, was admired throughout the church as a kind and loving priest who blazed a trail for other women.
Born in Berea, Ohio in 1947, Fraser graduated from Allegheny College in 1969 with a B.S. Later that same year she entered the Episcopal Theological Seminary (ETS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the only woman in her class. She graduated with a Master’s of Divinity in 1973, and was the first woman ordained a transitional deacon in the Diocese of Ohio in 1973. She was the 33rd woman ordained a transitional deacon in the nation.
Mother Joan had been invited to be one of the women who came to be known as the “Philadelphia Eleven,” who were ordained in 1974 in “irregular” fashion prior to authorization by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church for the ordination of women to the priesthood. However, continuing her lifelong practice of abiding faithfully by the decisions of her church, and obeying her bishop, Fraser declined to be one of the very first women ordained priest, and chose instead to serve as deacon at that historic mass.
She served as the associate chaplain at Kenyon College in Ohio from 1974-1976. She was the first woman formally approved by the Diocese of Ohio to be “regularly” ordained priest in 1977. Her deliberate care and intentionality led to her being the second woman ordained to the priesthood in Ohio. Many women throughout the U.S. were ordained in January of 1977, as soon as it was permitted within the Episcopal Church. Fraser had committed to being ordained priest in the chapel at Kenyon at a time when the students could participate. That delay meant being ordained priest in March of 1977. Mother Joan was thus one of the first 50 women regularly ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. The Rt. Rev. John Burt ordained her both deacon and priest.
Following her ordination, it was nearly impossible for a woman priest to obtain paying work, let alone full-time paying work. After her ordination, at her bishop’s urging, and with financial support from the Diocese of Ohio, Fraser obtained an M.S. in Geology from the University of Arizona in 1978.
She served full-time as a petroleum geologist for Amoco Production Co. from 1978-1985. Throughout her long and varied life in the church, Mother Joan frequently took lower paying, part-time or even non-paying jobs so as to be able to serve the church in an environment where women were not always considered desirable candidates for clergy positions. She was known for her cheerful disposition and her wise acceptance of the role she played as a trailblazer for others. She told many younger clergy she mentored that it was her delight to serve as a “doorknob” for other women participating in the life and ministry of the church.
Throughout her long career Fraser served parishes in Ohio, Colorado (where she was the first full-time, fully-stipended female priest), North Carolina, Western Massachusetts (where she served as Canon at Christ Cathedral), New York City, and Long Island. She was appointed by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church to be the 2015 Anglican Delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Mother Joan married Ross Fraser, director of planning at the Nassau University Medical Center, in 1979. He survives her, along with six godchildren, countless cousins, and many other family and friends. Among her friends and family, she was known as a gracious, wonderful hostess, cook and artist. At the time of her death, complex negotiations were being carried out for the sharing of her secret chocolate sauce recipe. In addition to her many other accomplishments she obtained a BFA in Design from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1999.
Memorial gifts may be sent to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society for the benefit of the Joan Grimm Fraser UNCSW Legacy Fund, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the year of the Philadelphia Eleven ordinations. It was 1974, not 1976.


  1. Thank you for sharing all these memories and the video. I smiled when I saw the picture from almost 28 years ago of Joan, our son Sam and myself. Ross and Joan played an important role in our lives and we look forward to visiting with Ross this fall.

    1. I'm so pleased you enjoyed the post! I snatched that photo off of Facebook and just had to include it as it was one of the oldest I'd seen. We're looking forward to seeing Ross at our annual McMillin getaway in a couple weeks. All the best to you. Jenn