Mary Fraser, widow of Sea Pines, Hilton Head, founder, dies

Mary and Charles Fraser at the William Hilton Inn in the 1960s.

Mary and Charles Fraser at the William Hilton Inn in the 1960s.

Courtesy of the Fraser family

Mary Wyman Stone Fraser, who helped shape the modern island of Hilton Head alongside her husband, Sea Pines founder Charles E. Fraser, died Saturday October 23 at her home in Cedar Mountain, North Carolina said her daughter, Laura Lawton Fraser. She was 80 years old.

Mary Fraser founded one of South Carolina’s first Montessori schools in 1968 in a building in Sea Pines. Today is the Sea Pines Montessori Academy.

She was the instigator of the first playground in Harbor Town at Sea Pines, working from photographs she had taken of a playground in Harlem.

But she was best known for her evangelical Christian testimony, which included a near altar appeal during her husband’s funeral in 2002 under the Liberty Oak in Harbor Town.

She married Charles in November 1963 after working six months as a social secretary in the fledgling development of Sea Pines. She was with him when he was killed at the age of 73 in a 2002 boat explosion in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The Frasers had moved to Cedar Mountain outside of Brevard, NC in 2000, but she returned to help the Montessori School and the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing Golf Tournament celebrate milestones.

Mary Fraser has always championed her husband’s work in community development.

She would often say, “One thing about living with Charles is that it was never boring.

She has had declining health for the past two years, said Laura Lawton Fraser.

Mary Fraser was raised in Greenville, the daughter of textile mogul Eugene E. Stone III and Allene “Linky” Stone. The Linky Stone Park Kindergarten in the heart of Greenville is named after her mother.

She was a graduate of Stephens College in Missouri and was working in Washington, DC, for the late US Senator Strom Thurmond when she first visited Hilton Head.

Charles had asked his visiting parents if they could recommend a social secretary. This is how Mary arrived on the island, but she had no intention of staying on her first visit on a rainy night.

As the wife of the energetic founder of a struggling business, she hosted weekly oyster roasts at her home for all guests at the company’s William Hilton Inn.

She told stories about an island so isolated at the time that she sent clothes to Savannah for dry cleaning and shoes to Greenville for repair.

When her husband was inducted into the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame, Mary said he saw golf as a way to bring people together. He did not play golf, but founded the Heritage PGA Tour tournament at Hilton Head.

It took everyone in a community of around 3,000 to win the golf tournament in 1969, Mary said. As Charles’ brother Joe Fraser sprinkled pine straw to cover all the mud in Harbor Town’s grand new venue, Charles held an opening parade for his tournament with fluttering flags, bagpipes and a cannon shot.

“So here we are,” recalls Mary. “The flags are up, the bagpipes start, the drums are rolling and everyone is there. And what’s interesting is that there was hardly anyone to watch the parade because everyone on the island was there.

She is also survived by her daughter Wyman Stone Fraser Davis of Atlanta and six grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete, said Laura Lawton Fraser.

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