Tributes have been flooding in for terrorist victims campaigner Willie Frazer, who passed away peacefully in hospital this afternoon surrounded by his family, it has been confirmed.
Always controversial and avowedly loyalist and unionist in his politics, he spent decades campaigning for the rights and welfare of Troubles victims - primarily families whose loved ones were murdered by republicans.
The Frazer family’s Pastor, Barrie Halliday, described his close friend as “a true Ulsterman”.
The 58-year-old had beaten several bouts of cancer over the past ten years, but had refused to back out of public life and had knowingly put himself into an early grave on behalf of victims of terrorism, he said.
“Willie was so many things to so many people, to some he was a loyalist, to others he was a unionist and to other he was a servant of victims of terrorism,” he told the News Letter.
“Today I have to say that a true Ulsterman has fallen. It is one of the saddest pieces of news that I have ever had to break. A mighty man has fallen.
Today I have to say that a true Ulsterman has fallen. It is one of the saddest pieces of news that I have ever had to break. A mighty man has fallen.Pastor Barrie Halliday
“This is primarily news for the people who appreciated Willie, with all his faults, those who appreciated all the good things he meant to so many people.”
Willie would undoubtedly say that his biggest achievement was securing the legacy inquest into the Kingsmills Massacre, he said.
“But I would say that his biggest achievement was leading the charge for victims of terrorism for over twenty years, pushing their interests to top of the agenda during political talks, time after time.
“In this regard I have no hesitation in saying that Willie was another casualty of the Troubles.
“He was warned nine years ago and again five years ago that if he did not adopt a stress free life his life would be cut short.
“However he refused to choose an easy life and continued to press on in his quest for truth and justice for victims of terrorism and so he had died at a relatively young age.
“His family too deserve immense credit, sacrificing countless nights with Willie while he was out campaigning for truth and justice for victims.”
The pastor said that Willie’s outlook and passions were defined by the fact that his father, two uncles, two cousins and a brother-in-law were all murdered by republicans during the Troubles.
And he firmly rejected the frequent claims from critics that Willie was a highly divisive figure.
“He never pulled a trigger or planted a bomb in his life - that is what the real divisive people did. The truly divisive people are the one that divided families by pulling the trigger and planting bombs, they are the ones that left empty chairs at kitchen tables.
“Willie’s life was overwhelmingly spent in campaigning for truth and justice for those families.
“He was never going to unify the country but he did unify many of the most isolated and vulnerable people in society whose loved ones were murdered.”
He added: “As far as I know Willie never in his life condoned any loyalist murders, however he did say he would never lose any sleep over an IRA man being ‘taken out’”.
However he acknowledged that even he regularly had private disagreements with Willie, often persuading him against certain controversial actions.
“I pulled him back many times from the brink,” he added.
Mr Halliday reiterated Willie’s account of the five Official IRA men who knew his father, Bertie Frazer, He was a part-time UDR man who was abducted and murdered by the IRA while farming in south Armagh.
Willie went public in recent years to say that the five OIRA men approached him in latter years to say that his father should never have been shot by PIRA.
“One of them even carried his father Bertie’s coffin,” Mr Halliday added.
“The difference between them, in Willie’s eyes, was that the Officials’ actions were always targeted against the state whereas the Provisionals turned out to be highly sectarian in whom they murdered.”
The Pastor of Five Mile Hill Pentecostal Church in Mountnorris, which the Frazers attend, also passed on thanks from the family for all the support they have received in recent weeks.
“They really appreciate all the words of support and prayers and have found the staff at Craigavon Hospital to have been brilliant.”
Finally, he also had a message for republicans - Willie’s main opponents in life - at this time.
The pastor, who once brokered a trial amnesty between the government and south Armagh fuel smugglers, said: “I would expect Sinn Fein to publicly acknowledge that Willie stood up for his people and to call for his family to be left in peace until Willie is buried.”
Latterly Willie led the Markethill victims group FRPU, which recently had its funding cut by the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS). The Frazer family said they were “devastated” that VSS publicly confirmed the information in the media while he was critically ill, something they claimed VSS had promised not to do.
VSS said an audit had revealed serious failings in governance of the organisation. However his family said that Willie had not yet had a chance to respond to the allegations as he became seriously ill only days after the findings were put to him in writing.
TUV leader Jim Allister quickly paid tribute.
“I am profoundly sorry to learn of the passing of William Frazer,” he said. “William’s passion for innocent victims and desire to honour the memory of those in his own family who paid the supreme sacrifice at the hands of terrorists is beyond question. In the face of many trials and setbacks William was always able to come back.
“Now his struggle is over it behoves politicians to honour his memory by ensuring that the past is not rewritten. We must all ensure that innocent victims are not forgotten.
“I extend my heart felt sympathy to his family and friends and like countless others across Northern Ireland will remember them in my prayers in the coming days.”
The UUP also paid tribute. Former Newry and Armagh MLA Danny Kennedy said he was “deeply saddened” at the passing of Mr Frazer who he described as “a determined campaigner as well as a dedicated Loyalist who loved his country and was a strong advocate for victims”.
Mr Kennedy said: “William Frazer was in many respects a child of the Troubles. The cruel murder of his father and five other family members by Republicans shaped his life and later career. He himself served in the UDR and he knew the cost of that service to his own family and numerous friends and colleagues.”
“I worked with William over many years. We didn’t always agree and sometimes we differed in our approach to political developments, but I liked and respected him. He was fearless in his approach and some people didn’t either like or appreciate that - but they had not lived the experience that he had, growing up in South Armagh and the loss of so many family members.”
“He was ultimately a devoted husband and father and I send my sincere sympathy to his wife Ann, son Philip and siblings at this very sad time. I am genuinely grieved at his passing at such a young age and will always remember him fondly.”
UUP party leader Robin Swann added: “Having got to know William over recent years, his commitment to supporting victims could not be questioned. I want to pass on my sympathies to his family at this difficult time and ask that they are given the space and time to grieve as a family who has lost a loved one.”
Kenny Donaldson, Director of Services with victims group, the South East Fermanagh Foundation, also paid tribute.
“SEFF’s deepest sympathies are with the Frazer family after the sad passing of Willie, earlier this afternoon,” he said.
“First and foremost Willie was loved and cherished by his own family but many others loved him too and then there are friends and indeed those who might have been understood as opponents but who held a healthy respect for him based on his family’s lived experience of sectarian and ethnic motivated terrorism - terrorism which stole 6 members of Willie’s family”.
“Willie committed a substantive section of his life to fighting innocent victim’s issues and is most closely associated with the case to secure compensation for Gadaffi’s terror victims murdered by The Provisional IRA and also of pursuing fuel and diesel smugglers and criminals operating in south Armagh and our borderlands. He was also the prominent campaigner alongside the Kingsmill families consistently supporting their efforts down the years”.
“Willie was a unique individual, he had sharp wit and could be very charming. Yes he had flaws but so too does every one of us”.
“We pray for Peace for the Frazer family over the coming days and weeks as they mourn and grieve the loss of Willie”.
“If The republican movement’s leadership has anything to say then it should be to call for respect to be shown to the Frazer family,” he added.
DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA also paid tribute.
“William had more pain and grief imposed upon him during his life than anyone should ever have to experience,” she said. “There can be no doubt that the brutal murder of five family members, including his father, shaped and defined his life. William dedicated himself to fighting for victims of the republican terrorism he experienced so personally growing up in South Armagh.
“William was fiercely independent and never afraid to speak his mind. I greatly valued his honest viewpoint as well as the friendship and support he offered me on many occasions. William feared no-one and would never be silenced from speaking up for the causes he believed most passionately in.
“My thoughts are with William’s wife and family at this very difficult time and I can only hope they are able to take some comfort that the pain William experienced during his life is now finally at an end.”
Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin added: “I visited William only a few days ago and chatted with him as he lay on a hospital bed and it is very tragic that he has sadly passed away after this period of ill health.
“I had known William for many years and everyone will be aware he had suffered a lot through the loss of his father and other family members directly as a result of IRA terrorism. He will be sadly missed by his wife and family circle and I extend my deepest sympathy and prayers to them as they come to terms with this awful loss.
“William was a tireless advocate for innocent victims of republican terrorism and his contribution in assisting many victims through various measures is something that they will be forever grateful for.”
Loyalist activist and blogger Jamie Bryson also paid a heartfelt tribute to Willie, the two having ended up on remand in jail in relation to their role in the Flag Protests of 2012.
“I am proud to have had the privilege of sharing friendship with William Frazer,” he said. “We shared many great times together, and even managed to find ourselves locked in a prison cell for 23 hours a day for a period of time in 2013.
“He was one of the finest Ulstermen I ever met and was a true and trusted friend.
“It is heartbreaking that Willie has gone but he died as he lived, fighting until the end. He dedicated his whole life to standing up for his people and his community and the hatred he elicits from Republicans, even in death, is a testimony to the fact that he was thorn in the side of the IRA.
“Farewell to a victim’s campaigner, a loyalist, a churchman and above all else a friend.”
Jonathan Ganesh, a survivor of the IRA Canary Wharf bomb in London and President of the Docklands Victims Association, said: “I’m absolutely heartbroken to learn that my friend Willie has passed away. He was undoubtedly one of the bravest man I ever met, as he had the courage to challenge injustice of terrorism. He will be greatly missed as I and so many others loved him so much. Willie he will always remain in our hearts.”
Willie’s funeral will take place at Five Mile Hill Pentecostal Church, Mountnorris Road, Bessbrook on Monday at 2pm.