Submitted photo Lorne Fraser created a fund 35 years ago that gives scholarships and bursaries to those with mental illness.

Surrey mental health advocate Lorne Fraser remembered as ‘gentle and passionate’

Surrey resident created a fund that’s helped those with mental illness further their education

Lorne Fraser was thrown a few curveballs throughout his life, but that never stopped him from showing compassion.

Fraser lived a seemingly happy life as an accountant with a young family, before an emergency hospitalization due to a mental illness.

After he left the hospital, he was fired from his job because he could ‘no longer be trusted.’

The negative stigmas associated with mental illnesses never deterred Fraser. In fact, it inspired him to give back to others who were living with mental illness all the way up until his passing on Oct. 28th, 2017.

In the early 1980s, Fraser started working as a volunteer with the British Columbia division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA B.C.).

That’s when he decided to start the ‘Lorne Fraser Education Fund,’ which gives scholarships and bursaries to those suffering from mental illness.

“Lorne started out with $100, but it grew over time because he had this great big vision that he was going to go out and help a bunch of people,” said CMHA B.C. CEO Bev Gutray.

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When Gutray met Fraser in 1992, she said that there were only a few hundred dollars in the fund.

Now, the fund gives out $8,000 worth of scholarships and bursaries every year.

“Every year he would go through stacks of applications,” said Gutray. “We get tons of applications over time which is great since the fund will continue to grow over time.”

“The bursaries and the scholarships will live on in his name,” Gutray said.

Gutray tells a story about a young woman in Sechelt, who won the bursary from Lorne’s fund. When it was time for her to go to university, she had a relapse and wasn’t able to go.

She was traumatized after she thought she had lost the award, but Gutray and Fraser held the award for her until she was ready.

“When she came to receive it, she talked about the value of having someone care for her,” said Gutray.

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As someone who suffered from a bipolar disorder and depression throughout his life, Fraser understood how to show compassion to the mental health community.

“When you struggle with living your own life, often that gives you the capacity to give to others,” Gutray said.

Not only did Fraser care about others, but he was able to get people to come and help out his causes. Fraser sponsored an annual Great Turkey Rally in Surrey that raised thousands of dollars for his fund. An unabashed country music fan, Fraser was able to get musicians and line dance teachers to volunteer at his events.

“That was the power of Lorne,” said Gutray. “He was so kind. It inspired others to help him.”

Lorne attended every annual CMHA B.C. meeting for 35 years so that he could hand out the scholarships and bursaries to recipients.

Over the years, the fund has helped more than 150 people.

“He was gentle and passionate, absolutely,” said Gutray.

“For somebody who struggled with a pretty serious mental illness to still go out and do something that’s great for the community is really inspiring.”

Fraser wrote about his struggles with bipolar disorder and depression in an article from 2003.

After being turned away from many jobs due to his illness, and after many stays in the hospital, Fraser decided he needed to do something for the rest of the mental health community facing similar issues.

“I was determined to give people with mental illness money for job-skills training,” wrote Fraser. “From 1982 to 1992, through my company, I gave whatever money I could to people with mental illness to go to college with the idea that they would find work.”

“By participating in an individual’s education, the community will ultimately benefit,” he wrote. “An individual with marketable job skills can contribute to society and help lessen the stigma associated with mental illness.”

Those who are inspired by his story are welcome to make donations to his fund. Visit cmha.bc.ca for more information on how to donate, and on the type of scholarships and bursaries that are handed out.

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