Roscoe (Ross) R Fraser (1957-2023)
He made every rehearsal a laugh-out-loud experience, and it is safe to say that in every performance he ever gave, Ross left no piece of scenery unchewed.
- Douglas Wood, actor, composer and director who worked with Ross on Bailiwick’s “The Expense of Spirit”
Roscoe (Ross) Randaylle Fraser II, 66, a larger-than-life presence in the Chicago communications, non-profit and theater arenas for more than four decades, passed away on Jan. 1. Ross is lovingly remembered for his encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture, his ribald sense of humor, and a deep-from-the-gut laugh that shook the rafters of any room he was in.
Born in Chicago as the son of a minister, Ross spent his childhood in Alabama, Michigan, and Kentucky before settling in Dekalb. Even when the family was living elsewhere, Ross's Chicago roots were deep. Ross always said he “found his people” when he arrived at Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU) in 1974 as a theater major. Ross had a memorable role in Truman Capote's “Among the Paths to Eden” and directed his senior show, the Steven Tesich play “The Carpenters”.
After earning a BFA in 1978, Ross appeared as an actor-singer on many Chicago stages. Younger theatergoers will remember him as Harold the Dog in Lifeline Theater's “Bunnicula”. He was proud to originate the role of Gus, the grandfather, in Bailiwick Theater's holiday staple “The Christmas Schooner”, which made excellent use of Ross' basso profundo speaking and singing voice. Adult audiences saw him in several other Bailiwick productions over the years, including “Don Juan on Halsted”, the award-winning “The Expense of Spirit”, and Jeremy Wechsler's staging of "The Threepenny Opera" for Magellan Theatre at the old Synergy Theatre in Wicker Park (he played Mr. Peachum opposite Kate Fry's Polly Peachum and James Schneider's Macheath). Ross also acted as the publicist for George's Cabaret in Chicago. Among the artists he promoted when they performed there were Linda Hopkins, Charles Pierce, Bruce Vilanch, Blossom Dearie, Cissy Houston, and Barbara Cook.
In more recent years, Ross entered the world of podcasting, teaming up with his friend and fellow Wesleyan alum Gary Zabinski on more than 50 episodes of “Booth One: Adventures in the Lively Art of Conversation”. When he wasn't performing or commenting, Ross was an avid audience member with bicoastal tendencies. He made several trips to New York each year to see the latest Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, and as a cinephile he made an annual pilgrimage to Cinecon, a confab in Los Angeles for filmgoers that focuses on the silent film era and classic cinema of the 1920s, '30s and '40s.
While theater and film represented a passionate avocation, Ross made his living as a communications and public relations expert. He worked at several radio stations in the early 1980s and spent the second half of that decade at Public Interest Affiliates (PIA), a Chicago-based company that provided content for radio stations around the country. In addition to producing "The JFK Conflict", an award-winning documentary, Ross served as PIA's station relations manager, clearing time for PIA content on member stations, where he is remembered as an openly gay man successfully dealing with often very homophobic station managers.
Other successful media work followed in the 1990s and 2000s, including several years handling media relations for the Triumph Over Pain Foundation, founded by the journalist Mary Nissenson, and several years as a public information officer for the American Medical Association.He was most proud of more than a decade as director of media relations at Feeding America, the nationwide network of food banks. During Ross's tenure, the organization tripled in donations and doubled its visibility in the public consciousness.
Ross is preceded in death by his parents, Richard and Esther (Koning) Fraser, and his sister Susan. In addition to Ms. Keller and her husband Roger, Ross is survived by another sister, Emily Davis, and her husband, Monty, as well as three nieces, two nephews, four great nieces, and one great nephew. Ross is also remembered by hundreds of friends, colleagues and acquaintances whose lives he touched. Those wishing to honor Ross are encouraged to make a contribution to one of his favorite nonprofits–Nourishing Hope (formerly Lakeview Pantry) that serves the Northside neighborhood where Ross lived. You can make a donation in Ross's honor at www.nourishinghopechi.org.