Monique Frazier relaxes on her front porch with her dog Ace, who seems to have as much personality as she does! PHOTOS BY GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

With a bachelor’s degree in business management, Bluffton resident Monique Frazier worked in the medical field from the time she graduated from college in 2005. She says, though, that her first job as a food runner for Reilley’s Grill and Bar taught her to interact with people.

“I tell every person that they should always get a job as a waitress or server. When you make $2.13 an hour, and no matter how someone treats you or how much they complain, you treat them with respect, because there’s still that car note and that college bill,” said Frazier. “It taught me to receive that one dollar, but maybe the next table would give you a $20. Every single dollar I earned helped me stay in college.”

Even today, she says her boss remembers her when she worked for him, tells her she was the best server, and she had people who would wait to be in her table.

“Servers and bartenders had to give you $5. I had one bartender would only give me $1 and refused to give me that $5,” she said. “I was only 13 and he said, ‘Kid, take what I give you.’ I really think working in the service industry prepared me.”

Her parents – Cynthia Simmons and Donald J. Mills – met while her father was stationed on Parris Island. It wasn’t the smoothest start to a relationship, Frazier said. They hadn’t known each other for long when Mills went on a trip and didn’t come back.

“What she didn’t know was he’d been in a terrible accident, and was in the hospital for weeks, my mother said. She figured it was just another military man moving on, and that was that,” she said.

But it wasn’t. When he was well enough, her father returned to Beaufort and went looking for Simmons, and the rest is history. The couple moved to Ft. Lauderdale, where Frazier was born.

Six weeks later, Frazier and her mother moved to Beaufort where they lived until moving to Hilton Head Island when she was 8. She started third grade on the island and stayed to graduate from high school. Meanwhile, her father – who was known as Mills – got out of the Marines and went to work in the Sea Pines public works department while her mother worked in banking for 40 years, starting at C&S, then NationsBank, and Bank of America when Frazier was in high school.

Frazier credits her mother as having the most impact on her.

“My mother had a rough start. She was actually raised by my grandmother’s aunt who adopted her. She got abused and mistreated,” Frazier said. “My grandmother wanted a light-skinned niece with nice hair. My mother was the dark-skinned child with not a lot of hair. Her adopted mother settled for her but never let her feel like she wanted her.”

Her childhood was definitely different from her mother’s, and Frazier was involved in everything. Hilton Head has always been a destination, even for those who lived nearby.

“When I was growing up and living in Beaufort, a trip for us was going to Hilton Head. My mother would get us a villa, we would stay on Hilton Head, and feel like the richest people in the world. When we moved over here, I would go and stay the summers in Miami with my mother’s mother,” said Frazier. “She really loved me and doted on me. I guess whatever they couldn’t give my mother, they gave me.”

Despite her childhood, Frazier said her mother could hold an audience. One of her favorite memories centers on her mother’s abilities as a narrator for fashion shows.

“Everybody would call her to do theirs. She would actually have her own shows, and I always remember how talented she was. She would get up there and create ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ by just telling what people had on. She had a stage presence out of this world. And I think that’s where I get my characteristics from,” Frazier said. “I always enjoyed people seeing her as the beautiful person she is.”

Most children have a best friend, and Frazier’s is LaTasha Young.

“I remember meeting her in sixth grade. That’s when Bluffton came over to Hilton Head for school. Her mother lived in Beaufort and one day she spent the night and she never wanted to leave. She lived with us for three years. We dressed alike, we got our first jobs together, she’s my children’s godmother. When you saw one, you saw the other,” she said. “My other best friend was Kiki Ford, and she had a car. We lived too close to the school for a bus so she started picking me up, and I didn’t have to walk.”

Frazier was also involved in school activities.

“My favorite subject was science and my worst subject was math. I loved the choir. I am definitely a church choir lead singer. I do karaoke – I did that at this year’s Juneteenth celebrations. Singing has always been a passion of mine. Even when I got out of high school, I went back to be part of the gospel choirs,” Frazier said. “I also played basketball as a center. I enjoyed it up until 10th grade, but after 10th I realized there were people better and I wanted to work, so I stopped playing.”

Another other passion is food.

“I love Chinese food. It’s so sad how much I love Chinese food,” she laughed.

When Frazier graduated from high school, she and Young were going to attend USC-Aiken together, but Frazier had to change her plans when her father became ill.

“I stayed here locally so that I was able to take care of him, go to work and go to school,” she said. Her first job out of college was gastroenterology, where she learned a lot about her father’s condition. It prepared for her the worst, as her father declined. “I felt God placed me there for a reason and prepared me for the worst,” she said.

This was Frazier’s first exposure to cancer, and burying her father was one of the biggest challenges she has faced.

“He was a tall, handsome, man with hazel eyes. All the women loved him,” she said. Her son was just 2 years old when her father died, so he “wouldn’t know my father when he got older,” Frazier said, but “I think of what my father could have done if he was still here.”

Frazier moved on to other medical practices, and eventually attained the title of chief operating officer of the Palmetto Medical Group, which she recently left for other pursuits.

“When we were bought, I played the role of practice manager, but I handled everything. I’ve been here since 2008 in that role. I first wanted to be a nurse, but realized I didn’t want to be a nurse but got on the business side, and have been there ever since,” Frazier said. “The most challenging thing I have ever done was working with PMG. I was introduced to so many things. I was doing payroll, opening bank accounts for the doctors, doing taxes, then building a new building and meeting with the builders, and then we got into real estate,” she said.

Frazier she owes a debt of gratitude to the doctors with whom she has worked. “They challenged me with so many different things,” she said. “I owe so much to them. They put me up to the challenge. I didn’t know I could do it, but they trusted me with their businesses.”

Frazier is constantly on the lookout for potential strong employees.

“Being able to live here, work here, graduate from here gave me the opportunity to see people who work here. When I went into IHOP and liked someone’s customer service, I would give them my card, and sometimes give them a job here. There are a lot of single moms hired at PMG,” she said.

It hasn’t always been work, work, work for Frazier. One day she met the fellow who would become her teen sweetheart, Kenneth Frazier Jr. of Bluffton.

“I was 13 when I met my husband at a Bluffton Eagles baseball game. The local men used to have baseball games Saturday and Sunday at Eagles Field. You wanted to go to the games, and there were cars parked up and down the road, so you had to get there early or you had to walk,” she said. “I think it was love at first sight. I saw him, we exchanged numbers. He has a big family. They were always doing things: get-togethers and reunions, and I gravitated to that family and I never let go.”

The Fraziers have two children and she said they’re the best thing she’s ever done.

“It’s been challenging, but it’s been quite rewarding. Being able to raise them and being married to their father makes it even better. I think that’s the best thing,” she said. “They’re good kids. You look at them and the path they’re on and you think, you’ve done something right.”

In addition to her own children, Frazier works on behalf of the foster children who fall under the responsibility of the Department of Social Services.

“Because of my mother and what she went through, and all of the people I wanted to mean something to, that is why my husband and I make foster kids the focus of our Thanksgiving,” she said. “My best friend works for DSS, and she tells me about the kids and what they go through.”

The annual Frazier Family Community Thanksgiving Dinner – this year will be the fourth – has been held at Oscar Frazier Park in Bluffton, and it takes a village to provide the cooked turkeys, commitments for various sides, and contributions that cover the costs of carry-out containers and other serving necessities.

The primary focus is collecting Walmart gift-cards that go to Beaufort County Foster Families. It’s a project near and dear to Frazier to be able to give other children what her mother never had.

“Because of my mother’s treatment, she made sure I never wanted for anything. She wanted me to always feel beautiful and be a part of everything,” Frazier said. “She went out of her way to make sure I felt loved, and she made sure I had whatever I needed, whether it was clothes or shoes to match every outfit. I grew up in a trailer park and lived down a dirt road, but the way I dressed and acted with people, no one would ever know because I lived in Hilton Head.”

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.