DONALD NORMAN FRATUS
July 26, 1936 – March 8, 2023
A good man who left fond memories of him with all who knew him, Don passed away after a six-year battle with vascular dementia. He was 86.
Don was born in Los Angeles to Mildred Hamilton Fratus and Arthur J. Fratus, Sr. He was the fourth of their five children and the youngest son.
A kid of the 1940s, Don had a paper route and a pet duck named Donald who followed him to school. Don played basketball and ran track in the sports complex beneath the L.A. Coliseum. He loved baseball and attended games with his dad to see the old professional Hollywood All Stars, before the Dodgers moved to town.
When Don was 14, his brother, Arthur J. Fratus, Jr., known to the family as Jack, was lost in North Korea in November 1950 at the age of 20, when the Chinese army overran the ill-equipped, ill-clothed American forces. Whether killed in combat or taken prisoner, Jack’s fate was never determined. It was a wound that never healed for Don.
After graduating from Manual Arts High School, Don began an apprenticeship in a cabinet shop, working alongside his father. At the age of 20 and knowing he was eligible for the draft, Don sold his MG roadster and enlisted in the Army on Jack’s birthday. He took basic training at Fort Ord and, as the last surviving son, served stateside at Sandia Base, New Mexico and Romulus weapons depot in upstate New York. After his military service, Don returned to Los Angeles and began a career in finance and banking.
In February 1962, Don met a soft-spoken brunette named Dee Koper, and it was game over for the bachelor with the red Pontiac convertible. Don and Dee married on November 3rd of that year. The two weeks leading up to their wedding entered the history books as the Cuban missile crisis, a time of great tension and fear over a possible thermonuclear war with Russia. The diplomacy of the Kennedy White House averted war at the last minute, and Don was not recalled to active duty.
As young marrieds, both Don and Dee were eager to leave Los Angeles. He tested for and accepted a job in San Francisco with the California Department of Mental Health as a financial resource officer. The couple moved to Marin in January 1966, first to an apartment in Mill Valley and then five years later, over the hill to a permanent home in Larkspur.
Don began taking evening courses at the College of Marin and later at Lincoln Law School in San Francisco, while still working full time during the day. He graduated from both schools and passed the bar exam on the first try. He went to work as an attorney for the State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF), winning multiple presidential awards for corporate excellence. Don litigated complex workers’ comp cases, wrote corporate opinions and defended the Fund before the State Personnel Board when SCIF employees appealed disciplinary actions taken against them. He also defended workers’ comp cases filed by SCIF employees.
To keep in shape, Don began jogging in the 1960s and competed a number of times in the Dipsea race, the Bay to Breakers and the Zoo run. He ran in Golden Gate Park on his lunch hour, or across the Golden Gate Bridge and back after work. He worked out at the Koret Gym at USF and swam at the College of Marin. After he retired, Don rode his bike every day, sometimes to Point Reyes and often to China Camp. He took his bike on visits to Mendocino, Monterey and Manhattan Beach. He rode the 17 Mile Drive in Carmel a number of times. Two bad accidents and two concussions in the early 2000s forced Don to finally give up his bike, much to Dee’s relief.
For over 30 years, Don and his pals made the trip to Phoenix every March to see the Cactus League in spring training. He had seasons tickets to Cal football as well.
As a teen in L.A., Don had belonged to a car club called The Boondockers. The love of driving never left him. He and Dee made a number of road trips across and around the United States, visiting all of the lower 48, as well as the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec. One harrowing experience occurred on the narrow road alongside the St. Lawrence Seaway, when waves from the river splashed onto the car on one side, while signs on the other warned of falling rocks.
Don and Dee visited multiple national parks, presidential libraries and Civil War battlefields. They paid their respects at Pearl Harbor, at the Punch Bowl national cemetery in Honolulu, where Jack’s name is inscribed on a marble column, at Arlington and at the American military cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach in France.
On their European trips, Don drove through Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg. He steered as
Dee read directions to him. Domestic disputes ensued at roundabouts.
The couple had tickets to fly to Pittsburgh the morning of September 11, 2001. Two days later, they left for Pennsylvania by car and were in Washington, D.C. the day the United States went to war with the Taliban.
After 32 years of state service, Don retired, in order to be available to his widowed mother, who had outlived four of her five children. This necessitated countless trips up and down the coast, as her health declined.
During his free time, Don read voraciously and hiked the watershed. He loved strong coffee, classical music and a beer before dinner.
Don made several trips back to Washington, D.C.; first to attend the dedication of the Korean War Memorial, and later to participate in the annual conference for families of MIAs and KIAs, sponsored by the Department of Defense. No news of Jack’s fate was ever uncovered.
In 2012 Don and Dee celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a party for family and friends, including Don’s best man, at the Marin Art and Garden Center. Six of Dee’s beloved Koper cousins flew in from Pennsylvania to attend, as did one of her nephews. One of Don’s nephews, his wife and one of Dee’s oldest girlfriends came up from Los Angeles. Another guest arrived from Rhode Island. The old Mill Valley Jaycees crowd from the early days in Marin were there too: the Devlins, the Youngs, the Haukes, the Brabos, the Knezes and Sally Updike. John Parente, Don’s buddy from law school, and his wife Janis also attended, along with the old SCIF gang of merry makers, neighbors and other friends made along the road of life.
Beginning in 2016, Dee noticed changes in Don’s personality. By the following year, the changes were more pronounced and she urged him to see his doctor. An MRI and neuropsychological testing revealed Don had vascular dementia. Don took the news like a man.
After caring for him at home for 16 months, Dee reluctantly placed Don in memory care, where he spent the last four years of his life. He passed in the wee small hours of the morning, as Dee lay beside him one last time.
Don was predeceased by his parents, brother Jack and sisters, Betty Breuer, Doris Dempsey and Joan Alzeibler. Besides his loving wife of sixty years, he is survived by nephews, Michael Dempsey and wife Esthela and Patrick Dempsey and wife Linda, and by his niece, Pamela Whigham, as well as by grand nieces and nephews, all of southern California. He is also survived by his cousin Richard Fratus and wife Marlene of Tyler, Texas.
Dee wishes to thank Dr. J. Michael Graham for years of exceptional care and kindness, By the Bay Health (the old Hospice of Marin) and the skilled and dedicated caregivers and staff at Wind Chime of Marin in Kentfield for the tender mercies they showed her husband. She is indebted to longtime friends Margaret, Janis, Gerrie, Gee, Sarah, Sally and Linda for their comfort and support during a difficult time.
Services for Don will be at St. Anselm’s Catholic Church, 5 Shady Lane, Ross, CA on Wednesday, March 22, 2023. The Rosary starts at 10:00 a.m. followed by the Mass at 11:00 a.m.
Memorial contributions in Don’s name may be made to the St. Vincent DePaul Conference, 114 King Street, Larkspur, CA 94939.
Assisted by Monte’s Chapel of the Hills, San Anselmo
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