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Willie John Fraser: Death of retired Northern chief inspector who went on to work as funeral director

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Willie John Fraser, a retired chief inspector with the former Northern Constabulary, has died aged 83.

Born on the Black Isle, he served within both Cairngorm and Skye mountain rescue teams and in retirement worked for Inverness funeral director, John Fraser and Son.

Highland upbringing

The son of William John Fraser and his wife Peggy, William – known as Willie John – was born on October 30, 1938.

His father was a crofter who also worked for Highland Haulage, and his mother raised the children – which included Willie John’s cousin Donnie – and her other sons Hamish and Alasdair, who died as a child.

William Fraser pictured in his Scots Guards army uniform
Willie John Fraser pictured during his time in the Scots Guards.

Willie John attended Munlochy and Tore Primary Schools , then went on to Avoch Junior Secondary School until the age of 15.

Employment with Highland Haulage followed but at the age of 19, initially due to National Service, Willie John joined the army.

He’d go on to spend three years with the Scots Guards stationed at Windsor Castle for a time, then Dusseldorf in Germany.

Northern Constabulary

On November 1, 1960 Willie John hung up one uniform for another, joining what was then Inverness-shire Police Force.

After his training at Tulliallan he was stationed in Glen Srathfarrar near to the dam workers.

He later moved to Aviemore where he lodged with a lady and her brother – so made the most of the opportunity to attend Highland dances.

Inverness wedding

Willie John met his future wife Janet MacLean in Inverness.

Three years his junior, Janet was working as a waitress at Drumossie Hotel.

Gaelic-speaking, she hailed from the wee island of Raasay off Skye.

They enjoyed attending dances in and around Inverness when he wasn’t working or playing football for the police team.

Willie and his bride, Janet, on their wedding day.

Sandie Porter is Willie John and Janet’s youngest daughter.

She said: “When it came to the time when dad wanted to ask mum to marry him he took a very traditional approach and wrote and asked my grandfather for permission.

“It was a really romantic gesture so mum knew it was all above board.”

In 1965 they married at the Palace Hotel, Inverness before having a couple of days in Aberdeen for their honeymoon.

Mountain rescue

Their first home was a police house in Kingussie, where at that point in his career Willie John was a Police Constable. It was here that they had their first daughter, Joan.

On top of his regular duties William served as a volunteer in the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team.

In 1966, with Janet heavily pregnant with their second daughter, Sandie, the young couple got the news they would be moving to Uig in Skye.

Pictured on the hills during his mountain rescue days is Willie John Fraser, front.

“I was only 10 days old when dad was transferred. It was a different time with not much sympathy for the women,” said Sandie.

Although nearer to Janet’s family, Uig was a remote posting.

A one-man station overlooking the harbour where the ferries came in, Janet answered the phone where the local police officer was on call 24 hours a day, every day of the week.

Willie John also joined The Skye Mountain Rescue Team.

“There were a few tragedies on the hills – and they happened in pre-helicopter, pre-mobile phone times.

“It wasn’t unusual for dad to be away for days at a time, sometimes having to bring the bodies back down.

Back to Skye

In 1971 Willie John’s next move was to be posted to Beauly where they lived in the police house next to the Phipps Hall.

They’d only remain in the Highland village for four years before moving back to Skye in 1975, this time to Portree.

“Skye was my dad’s favourite place to be posted,” said Sandie. “He loved it there.”

Janet’s parents were still alive when she, Willie John and the girls came back to the island so family ties were strong during that time.

William Fraser pictured in his police uniform.
William – Willie John – Fraser.

Willie John also enjoyed taking part in sports events while in Portree, even receiving Sportsman of the Year award during his time in the island community.

However, the eight-year stretch in Portree also provided him with an opportunity to sit his Inspector’s exams.

Stornoway calling

Turning down an ensuing promotion to a posting in Shetland, thinking of his girls’ education, he eventually moved to Dingwall in 1983.

Next came a move to Stornoway on Lewis in 1986 when Willie John became chief inspector.

Fears of him not understanding Gaelic-speaking residents were allayed when his boss found out Janet was fluent in Gaelic.

Willie John Fraser, shown in the photograph taken to commemorate becoming Chief Inspector.

“My dad assured them that he’d be fine. After all he had ‘his interpreter’ with him.”

They lived in a semi-detached police house in Urquhart Gardens, where friends and colleagues from Portree lived next door.

Final posting

In 1990 he took on his last role within the Northern Constabulary in Alness.

Janet and Willie John bought a house in Trafford Avenue, Inverness and lived there until two years ago.

In 1992 Willie John retired from the police force after 32 years service.

But their new home – called Lauriston – provided plenty to keep him busy.

They decided to open it as a Bed and Breakfast.

After decades of uniformed working, however, it wasn’t easy for Willie John to enjoy a slower pace of life.

One Fraser then another

As a result, when an opportunity arose to work with his namesake, John Fraser and Son Funeral Directors in Inverness, he jumped at the chance.

Performing all aspects of the job at hand, he would be on call 24/7 again and would officiate at funerals.

It was a new season of life that he thoroughly enjoyed.

After 21 more years of service he finally retired fully at 75.


Sandie said: ” When my parents came to visit us in our new bungalow, I think it sparked something in them”

“They decided two years that it was time to move into their dream home.”

The couple moved to a bungalow in Culloden where Willie John enjoyed bowling, firstly at Beauly then later at Planefield Bowling Club in Inverness, where he played the week he died.

He remained a member of the Royal British Legion – paying his annual subs just two days before he passed away in his sleep last month.

Other interests included attending East Church Inverness and the Highland Accordion and Fiddle Club because of his love of Scottish Dance Music.

Still in love

His other life-long interest was Janet, the love of his life.

“All the messages we received referred to my dad as a gentleman and a kind man.

“And he was all of those things – but he was also a man devoted to his wife.

Willie John and his wife Janet on her 80th birthday.

“When mum was 80 he called Gary Innes on Radio Scotland to request a song for her.

“Their romance started at the dancing and it remained a firm favourite.”

Final farewell

Willie John’s funeral was directed by his friends from John Fraser and Son.

Sandie added: “Vicky walked in front of the car and saw my dad away on his final journey. It was beautiful.”

William is survived by Janet, daughters Joan and Sandie, sons-in-law Stuart and Dave and granddaughters Nici and Katie.

You can read the family’s announcement here.