Hope Frazier, RIP

Saturday I was reading lines from the late Vernon Scannell, a boxer as well as a poet: The glittering dance of brilliants must be strung / On that dark thread of sadness which is time.

Sunday morning, a call came from Laurel Martin: our friend and fantastical boss of four years in the mid-90s, Hope Frazier, had died Saturday night in Ojai, at 60, heartbreakingly young.

Hope was so many things: artist, writer, editor, filmmaker, executive, passionate traveler, crusader. She was one of the brilliants. She was like no one else at all.

I loved her, but love is complicated, and brilliants are not easy to work for. Hope was exhausting. After she promoted me to Star-News editor, toward the end of many a 12-hour day in the newsroom, she wanted to take one more pass at a story at 9 p.m., fax it to her lawyer friend in Chicago, make a few small changes. I had a baby and a wife at home her child was grown, and her husband was an understanding newspaperman. But she was the boss, and one more pass is what we made. We did it a lot.

Heady days. It was pre-Internet, and newspapers were still king. But newspapers are always in search of re-invention, and she had wildly ambitious plans to create the most fascinating daily in the world.

She imported a famous graphic designer for a complete redesign, a posse of new managing editors, layer upon layer of copy and assignment editors, fancy reporters whod get months to work on a story. World Cup was coming to Pasadena? Ole! Make it ours. O.J. was taking his longest run? Blow out the front page! Fires, earthquakes? Roll the presses mid-afternoon! Create an extra edition! All managers on deck to hawk the paper on Colorado Boulevard!

The first day in the office, she tracked me down. Im your editor for everything you write, she said. And I want you to be mine for her columns, which frequently ran on the front page, announcing a new initiative, apologizing for taking the American flag off the front page of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, explaining the spadia a flap that wrapped around the features section, crowing about the 1,500 readers whod responded with thoughts on the redesign most of them negative opinions. Some even accuse me of changing things because Im a woman and everyone knows women like to change things just to be changing. Hmmm, she wrote.

Toward the end, when things had gone south with her own bosses and she was lashing out and pushing for more change, daily change, the newsroom assigned me to talk with her about the exhaustion thing. Everyone was tired of what they saw as capriciousness. Youre her friend you can do it. Thanks, guys. We took an exercise walk in the Arroyo. Um, Hope, Ive been asked . . . were some of the hardest words Ive ever said. She stopped on the trail. I expected her to glower and blow up. But she didnt. She listened, soulfully, meeting my eyes with her deep, genius stare. And she thanked me, God bless her, and we hiked on.

Then she hatched a secret plan to buy back the Star-News from its new owners and really change the world! She invited some of us to her home on Prospect Boulevard and we conspired over good wine and really good food she was a brilliant cook. Problem was, the paper had just been sold for $55 million, and big ideas wouldnt foot the bill. But, man alive, was it fun to think them.

Big Thursday

Wednesday was my dad Milt Wilson’s 80th birthday. He and his wife Norma live in Honolulu, and travel a lot. They’d just come into town after a trip to Portugal, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Tuesday my sister Alicia and I took them up to San Luis Obispo and then over to Cambria, where our cousin Terry Damerel and her husband Jim own the Burton Inn, a very nice place to stay, and we had a great family time.

In the back of my mind, I knew about the huge surf that was coming in to the whole West Coast. But this wasn’t a surfing trip. Until it was. From a note I sent to my surfing buddies:

so the night before i headed up to cambria for my dad’s 80th i heard
my cousin terry damerel’s husband jimmy was talking about going out
in the swell of ’07 and that he had a big quiver of boards. so i
brought the 4/3 suit pete moffat just gave me — thanks, pete, you
saved my life! — and booties just in case. yesterday morning he came
knocking for dawn patrol and he had a 9’6″ tri fin for me and an 8’8″ for him. we went down to this one cliff and two guys
were out in this crazy swell that you had to paddle through a lot of
rocks to get to and i said “what’s this called” and he said
“paranoids.” and then we went north near san simeon and looked out
over another cliff and there was no one in the water and 200 yards
out overhead waves were breaking on a reef and i said what’s this
called and he said “cardiacs.” then we went a mile north to a nice
placid beach break
http://www.surfline.com/reports/report_travel.cfm?id=5051 and i said
“this looks rideable” and he said “mmm … we’re going to cardiacs.”
so we did. it looked so good he called his son jason, who is 28 and
visiting from australia, telling him to come down. only way to paddle
out ’cause there are so damn many rocks is at high tide, which it
was. we get out after a 10-minute paddle and it was 7-8 feet and tons
of kelp and he’d loaned me a hood so it actually wasn’t that cold.
monster sets, but you could stay out of the lineup if you were
chicken. i looked at a lot of waves and took just four of them in 90
minutes. one crummy right were i turned too fast into the face
getting used to the new board and just rammed right through it. one
where i held on but couldn’t figure out how to get out of the white
water once it closed out since the soup was so huge behind me so i
took it all the way in. big mistake. rocks are inside. i got back out
and jimmy said, “when that happens, just jump off.” then jason
paddles out on this 6-foot merrick and he’s one of these guys who
just flies into the air and then back down and then bounces off the
lip and it’s really fun to watch. then i take a very cool left and
stay on the shoulder the whole time and am very happy with probably
the biggest backside i’ve ever taken. only problem is getting pounded
on the paddle back out. then i’m looking at taking one in because
i’ve had my session and am still alive. found a head-high right and
took it 250 yards to the one place you can get through a channel and
crawl out through the rocks and stay safe — not the same place we
came in. little seal pops up right beside me as i get off my board.
stand on the cliff and feel like i’ve really earned that cigar i fire
up with joy.