Remembering Owsley Brown Frazier

| August 23, 2012

Owsley Brown Frazier, former executive of Brown-Forman Corporation, Bittners owner, Louisville philanthropist, museum developer, devoted Louisville Cardinal fan, and loving father and grandfather, died August 16, 2012, at age 77 after a long illness.

Owsley Brown Frazier, a fourth generation descendant of Brown-Forman Corporation founder George Garvin Brown, worked for Brown-Forman for 45 years and retired as vice chairman of the company.

Owsley joined Brown-Forman in 1955 and trained in sales, personnel, and law, and in 1959 he became assistant to the resident counsel. He was named company attorney in 1960. In 1964, he was appointed corporate secretary and executive director of personnel and corporate services and elected to the board of directors. He was elected vice chairman in 1983 and continued to serve in that role until his retirement from management in 2000.  He remained a member of Brown-Forman’s board of directors until 2006.

In his role as vice chairman of Brown-Forman Corporation, Owsley’s responsibilities encompassed public affairs, stockholder services, community affairs, communications, and corporate services.

Owsley was also owner and chairman of Bittners, LLC, an interior and commercial design firm.

When he retired from Brown-Forman June 1, 2000, Owsley immediately began laying the groundwork to open a history museum in downtown Louisville. The museum, now known as the Frazier History Museum, opened in the spring of 2004. It has since become one of the region’s premier tourist and educational attractions.

In addition to his responsibilities as vice chairman of Brown-Forman, Bittners owner, and history museum founder, Owsley amassed an impressive public service record, raising more than $500 million over a 40-year period, primarily for educational institutions in Kentucky.

Following in the footsteps of his philanthropist mother, Amelia Brown Frazier, Owsley Brown Frazier’s extensive involvement in business, civic, and charitable organizations over the years gained him a reputation as a concerned citizen who put his money and his muscle to work on behalf of many good causes. At Brown-Forman, he spearheaded a drive for corporate involvement in such social problems as the need for better housing. The company’s Adopt-A-Neighborhood program resulted in a total investment of more than $6.5 million from various sources for the construction and rehabilitation of more than 50 low-income houses in the California neighborhood of Louisville.

Owsley was chairman of the University of Louisville billion dollar campaign that was initiated in 2007 and he recently donated $25 million to U of L, the largest single contribution in the university’s history and believed to be the single largest gift to any university or college in Kentucky.  He led an $18 million building campaign at the University of Louisville for a natatorium and swimming complex. He also served on the board of trustees of the University of Louisville Overseers, including recent service as chairman of the board.

Owsley received an honorary degree of “Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa” from the University of Louisville, commemorating his significant philanthropic efforts for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  In August 2001, he was awarded the “Minerva Medal” from the University of Louisville “In recognition of his untiring support and dedication to his alma mater.”

Owsley chaired a $75 million campaign on behalf of the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute to construct a new state-of-the-art facility.

In recognition for his many outstanding contributions to Bellarmine University, Owsley received a second honorary degree, a “Doctor of Humane Letters,” from Bellarmine. He served as a member of Bellarmine’s board of trustees from 1988-2000, including service as chairman of the board from 1991-1997, and was named chairman emeritus in 1998.  Owsley and his family were instrumental in ensuring that Bellarmine had a state-of-the-art library – the W.L. Lyons Brown Library – which was completed in 1997.  In recognition of Owsley’s leadership, Bellarmine’s school of education is named for his deceased daughter, Annsley Frazier Thornton.

And true to Owsley’s love of sports, Bellarmine’s sports stadium is named the Owsley Brown Frazier Stadium and played host to the 2012 Division II Spring National Championships Festival.

In 1999 alone, Owsley was honored by the Louisville Black Achievers with their Distinguished Service Award, was awarded the illustrious Gold Cup Award in 1999 from Greater Louisville Inc., received the prestigious Sky Ranch Foundation Hall of Fame Pioneer Award, and was named The Voice Tribune’s Man of the Year.

In June 2000, the National Association of Athletic Development Directors presented Owsley with the Volunteer of the Year Award. Also in June 2000, he was awarded the Jefferson Cup by then-County Judge Executive Rebecca Jackson.

Throughout the years, Owsley’s outstanding gifts of time and money have been recognized by the Louisville Rotary Club, The Lincoln Foundation (the Spirit of Excellence Award for humanitarian service to the community), the National Society of Fund Raising Executives, and the Fund Raising Executives of Metro Louisville (the 1998 Volunteer Fund Raiser of the Year award). In 1990, he received the Louisville Urban League’s Equality Award “in recognition of commendable contributions and leadership in the pursuit of equality and community betterment.” Owsley was the Arthritis Foundation’s Man of the Year in 1989 and the recipient of the Younger Woman’s Club of Louisville Citizen Laureate Award in 1986.

Owsley was a former executive member and director of Greater Louisville, Inc.; a director and member of the executive committee of the Kentucky Economic Development Corporation; and a director of the Louisville Housing Development Corporation. He also served on the boards of the Cathedral Heritage Foundation, Jewish Hospital Healthcare Services, and Frazier Rehab Center. He was chairman emeritus of Kentucky Country Day School. He was also past chairman of the Greater Louisville Economic Development Partnership, the Downtown Development Corporation, and Business/Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), Washington, D.C.

From 1989 to 1997, Owsley served as a member of the Board of Directors of Liberty National Bank/Bank One, Kentucky.  Owsley was a member of the Pendennis Club, Louisville Country Club, River Valley Club and Ocean Reef Club (Key Largo, Fl), the Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and Beta Theta Pi and Phi Alpha Delta fraternities.

Born May 7, 1935 and a native of Louisville, Frazier attended Centre College and graduated from the University of Louisville with bachelor’s and J.D. degrees.  He is survived by his daughters, Laura Frazier and Catherine Joy (Jim Joy), and 8 grandchildren.

Visitation is 3 to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, August 21, at the Brown & Williamson Club in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, at the corner of Floyd St. and Central Ave. in Louisville. The funeral service is at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, August 22, at St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church, 6710 Wolf Pen Branch Road, Harrods Creek, KY 40027. In lieu of flowers the family requests expressions of sympathy in the form of donations to the Frazier History Museum or the charity of your choice.

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