Friends and leaders mourn the loss of Owsley Brown Frazier

Owsley Brown Frazier (Source: WAVE 3 archives)
Owsley Brown Frazier (Source: WAVE 3 archives)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky is mourning the loss of a man who spent his life giving back. Thursday, Louisville philanthropist Owsley Brown Frazier died at his home at the age of 77.

"I was deeply saddened," said Bellarmine University President Dr. Joseph McGowan.

Those who knew Owsley Brown Frazier best and knew of his declining health say his loss still comes as a shock. That's because they said, the community is not only losing an amazing philanthropist, but the loss of a wonderful human being who's heart was as big as his wallet.

Dr. McGowan is a close friend. He told WAVE 3's Connie Leonard he knew something was terribly wrong Thursday, when an urgent call pulled him out of a board meeting. "I thought it was a member of my family," McGowan told us, "And it turned out, that it was because that's how I felt about Owsley and I think he felt that way about me."

Frazier gave millions to Bellarmine and the University of Louisville.

What set Frazier apart in his generosity? His scope of interest. He loved education and athletics as much as the arts. At both schools he funded state of the art sports facilities and education buildings. The library at Bellarmine is the centerpiece of the university.

Last December, he gave UofL an incredible Christmas gift: $25 million dollars---the largest single donation in the school's history.

Governor Steve Beshear told WAVE 3, "As I got to know him more, I really admired him." He continued, "He was such an intelligent guy and then when he stepped up and supported UofL like he did with his checkbook, as well as his intelligence and his leadership, that just says a lot about a person."

The Brown-Forman heir also wanted to make public his private and impressive arms collection. He turned it into the Frazier History Museum. The United Kingdom's Royal Armouries are part of the permanent collection.

"He truly believed he was his brothers keeper and I believe that as well," said Fund for the Arts President and CEO Barbara Sexton Smith.

Frazier was a major benefactor for the Fund for the Arts. Sexton Smith said recently, Frazier funded the partnership between the Kentucky Opera and the history museum.

She told us, sharing is the essence of who Frazier was.

"He set a great example for all of us to follow," she said, "To whom much is given much is expected and he wanted to share all of the rich blessings that had been bestowed upon him and we are so fortunate to live in this community because his blessings are going to live long, long after all of us."

Owsley Brown Frazier was also a huge supporter of the Frazier Rehab Center with Jewish Hospital.

From Mayor Greg Fischer to Senator Mitch McConnell, numerous leaders have shared their sympathies with the family.

UofL Athletic Director Tom Jurich said, "Owsley was an icon in this community, a legend to us at the university and a true hero to me."

And UofL President James Ramsey was one of his closest friends. Out of town Thursday President Ramsey said in part in a statement, "I'm devastated at the passing of my dear and personal friend. Neither the University of Louisville nor the citizens of our community had a better friend than Owsley."

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