Lizzie Fraser was in every sense a weel kent and beloved member of her cherished Inverness community.
A stalwart of the city’s music and cultural scene where she’d regularly be seen playing her drum, the latter years of her life full of musicality and joy are testament to her inner strength and unyielding love of life.
For the musician, mother and The Bike Shed regular endured tragedy and trial throughout her life – but “came into her own” over the last two decades.
Now, following the death of her mother aged 86, Lizzie’s daughter Evelyn has paid tribute to the courage and strength of her mum, and has thanked her “other family” at The Bike Shed for embracing and loving Lizzie so well.
Born on February 4 1937 Elizabeth Fraser – better known as Lizzie – was one of five children for Elizabeth, who worked as a cook, and railway porter Donald Fraser, from Muirtown Street.
Lizzie’s brother Ian recalls those early wartime days as “dark at times” as they shared a bomb shelter with three other families, but that their home was happy.
Even at a young age Lizzie loved to go to town by herself.
“She loved the shops and often came back with sweets or chewing gum that soldiers, or sailors she met had given her,” said Ian.
Tragically, heartache wasn’t unknown to the family. Elizabeth – Lizzie, Ian, Elenor, Annette and Sandra’s mum – had to go into hospital for a routine operation.
Ian said: “The darkest time came when my mother was to have an operation on her legs. She was constantly on her feet and suffered from enlarged varicose veins.
“To care for us during this time my father arranged that we be looked after by my aunt and uncles, who owned a farm in Dunbeath, Caithness.
“Sadly, the operation was unsuccessful and she died with a blood clot in the operating theatre.”
The family, who were used to worshipping together at the local Baptist Church, and fostering a sense of one-ness with their children, were suddenly in the throes of grief and separation.
A plan was put in place for Ian to go a Christian home for homeless children.
Elizabeth, Annette and Elenor were to reside in Inverness Orphanage and baby Sandra would be looked after by her grannie.
However, before that could happen the Dunbeath relatives offered to become Ian’s guardians, and another aunt and uncle took on Lizzie at their farm halfway between Wick and Thurso.
Long lasting effects of grief
Losing their mother and the scattering of their family impacted the family hugely.
“It took a long time for Lizzie to adjust to such a change. Aunts and uncles are fine and did their best, but is was not home,” said Ian.
Lizzie’s father worked hard to keep his family together. Sadly Sandra died at just 18 months old but the rest of the children were able to come home to Inverness when they finished school.
Caledonian Road was their new address providing a perfect base for Lizzie to work as a child minder for the minister of Trinity Church before venturing into hotel work.
There she found a love of dancing becoming a regular at the Caledonian Ballroom. By the late 50s Lizzie embarked on her own adventure and moved south. A little known chapter of her life, she returned in the early 60s.
In 1964 Lizzie gave birth to her only daughter Evelyn at Cleveden House in Glasgow. A unit for unwed mothers and their babies it was later the subject of investigations due to the treatment faced by the young mums there.
“I didn’t know the full extent of what happened until much later in life,” said Evelyn. “I know know how brave my mum was. As it turned out my grandfather sent her money and she was able to run away from the home and come back to Inverness.
“I just feel she had so much sadness and pain yet mustered so much courage. Coming back to a tight-knit Christian community in the Highlands, in the 60s, couldn’t have been easy,” said Evelyn.
And it indeed it wasn’t. Lizzie’s health suffered. The loss of her mum and sister, and the trauma of what she faced in Glasgow took its toll.
“I’ll never be sure what exactly caused it but for much of the years between the late 60s, right into the 80s my mum was in Craig Dunain hospital.
“I saw her, and she was always, always my mum. But I was kind of brought up in between times by my aunty Annette.
“One of my other aunts was in Craig Dunain for most of her adult life, and just recently my cousins shared that their mum also kept notes of the days in the orphanage.
“It’s remarkable that they all came through that.”
By the mid 1980s Lizzie began a new chapter in her life. She moved to Abbey Court and settled into Inverness life. Her beloved Alba TV programmes and involvement in the Blazing Needles knitting group offered her a new community and comradery as she grew older.
A member of the “Cheek to Cheek” seated bowling group, whose name suited her own mischievous sense of humour, Lizzie loved her latter years as much as those in her life loved her.
Attending concerts, playing her drum and dancing, she was a fixture of Inverness’ cultural circuit. A regular at Inverness arts venue The Bike Shed, Lizzie commandeered her own seat where she drummed, and joined in with poetry and song.
‘She was loved by so many’
Described as the person to go to for any information on the city’s live music scene, even in her most senior years, whether pushing her distinctive red walking frame, or wearing her trademark colour co-ordinated hats, coats and chiffon scarves, Lizzie was still “in good form” until December last year.
After a short illness, however, she passed away peacefully at Raigmore Hospital, on December 23.
Following a celebration of her life at Chisholm’s Funeral Home on January 12, then a tea at the Loch Ness Hotel a tribute night “For Lizzie” took place at The Bike Shed.
“I, of course, cried at mum’s funeral but with every tribute, every song written for her, and every anecdote I just wept. She was so known, and loved, and understood.
“The community at The Bike Shed truly became another family to mum,” said Evelyn, ” and for that I will always be grateful.”
Lizzie is survived by Evelyn and son-in-law John, her grandchildren Carmen, Grant, Ross, Nosa and Eghosa, her great-grandchildren Faye, Leah and Lyle, and wider family.