Birth of the Birdie – 13
James Fraser came to America from Aberdeen, Scotland in 1907, obtaining work as a golf professional at Van Courtlandt Park, New York, the first public golf course in America, and at Great Neck. While working in New York he met Millie Leeb, from Albany N.Y. on a Flushing train. They were married and had four children, Sidney, Leo, James “Sonny” and Elizabeth.
According to Mrs. Elizabeth Fraser Jordan, her father was the son of an Aberdeen, Scotland constable who served in Singapore.
“Jolly Jim,” as he was called, came to America on a Silver Quill award scholarship, apparently because of his literary talents. His passion, however, was golf.
James Fraser was named the Seaview’s second golf professional in 1916 when he replaced Wilfred Reid. At Seaview he became associated with a number of great golfers including Mac Smith, Walter Hagen, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.
The Fraser family lived in a house on the first hole at Seaview that is still there. “In the early days the house had coal heat and an outhouse,” recalls Elizabeth Jordan. “We were a close family; they used to call us a clan.”
With his ten year old son Leo serving as their caddy Jolly Jim Fraser and Hagen defeated Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a Pottstown, Pa. exhibition tournament in 1920. According to Leo, his father had designed the course where the exhibition was staged and it was one of only two losses the British champions experienced on that tour, during which Ray won the U.S. Open.
Jolly Jim also won the Philadelphia Open, a significant accomplishment at the time.
“My father was a marvelous man,” relates Elizabeth. “He was a fun man who liked to collect and tell jokes, and was a good friend of Harry Lauder, the comedian. He was a bit heavy, talked with a thick Scot accent, drank Scotch naturally, and used to bring home every dog imaginable. He was a great hunter, who often went duck shooting with Dr. Allen, and he used to raise birds and dogs. All the club members loved him because he was such a great joke and story teller. He kept a batch of brandy for the members down in the cellar and going down the first hole they used to stop for a sip.”
Millie also played golf, and practiced on the putting green the morning that Sonny Fraser was born.
The world of the Fraser Clan changed on February 15, 1923, when Jolly Jim Fraser died after an auto accident with a trolley on Shore Road.
Elizabeth recalled, “He was on his way to pick up Sonny and me at school, and to mail somebody some jokes and collided with the trolley. Now the front and the back of the Toonerville Trolley looked the same so you couldn’t tell if it was coming or going, and he died of his injuries.”
Sidney, the oldest son joined the Navy and much of the burden of being the man of the house fell on young Leo Fraser and of raising the family on Millie.
“Mille was a phenomenal woman,” recalls Bonnie Siok. “She was a tiny thing with a charismatic personality. The world loved Millie. Against everyone’s wishes she used to sneak out and play cards with the caddies at the 19th Hole across from the Seaview club. Later she married Flo Ciriano, the only grandfather any of us really knew. Flo worked at Seaview and later a bartender at the Atlantic City Country Club, and was a very handsome man from Spain, who adored Millie ‘til they day she died.”