By Amy Young, November 2018 issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2018 here.
“You never forget your first!” There are plenty of scenarios we think of first when we hear that adage, but in this case, Letitia Frye, a seasoned champion of charitable causes, is referring to the first time she took on the auctioneering duties at a fundraising event.
“It was in 2003,” she told us, “not long after my son was born. My college roommate from USC had relocated to Arizona and was active in the charity scene. Kierland Commons just opened, and she was holding an event called Pardi Gras Under the Palms. I was a fulltime model then, as well as a boutique owner, and a morning news personality, so she asked me to emcee.”
After she committed to hosting that shindig, Frye found out more details. “What I didn’t know when I agreed to be the emcee,” she recalled, “was that there were four live auction items to sell and no auctioneer. My friend convinced me that as a theater major, I could certainly play an auctioneer on stage.” She did just that, selling a dune buggy, a television, a trip to Hermosa Beach, and the most adorable of the items – a puppy.
She was a hit with the crowd, coming off that stage to find people wanting her business card. Using skills from theater class, Frye had the crowd believing she was a professional auctioneer. “I guess they’d never seen a tall blonde in a beautiful outfit chant and sell like a guy. The rest was history.”
Fast forward 15 years and time has seen Frye instrumental in raising more than $400 million. Local charities like one •n• ten and Aunt Rita’s Foundation have benefited from her dedication, and the complete list of local-to-global organizations is lengthy. Frye has shared the stage with celebrities, including Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp, and no matter the scenario, be it an intimate engagement or a large-scale gala, she keeps her passion level cranked to the top.
She cites a good education paired with family support as a foundation for her success. “I am proud of my education,” Frye said. “I went to a highly respected private school in Connecticut from fourth grade through high school. It was an amazing place called Green Farms Academy, where the teachers were unbelievable.
That institution is also where Frye developed a love of Shakespeare and the theater. “It lit a fire that shaped my life and career,” she told us. “I got a degree in theater at USC, along with a minor in Spanish that helped me live abroad when I was 15, as an exchange student.
A proper auctioneering education was also part of her pursuits. “I studied auctioneering at the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Montana, and also completed a three-year certified program called the Certified Auctioneer Institute at Indiana University, as well as a related course offered by the National Auctioneers Association.”
Even after obtaining numerous awards and accolades, Frye doesn’t rest on those laurels. She’s driven by the betterment of others and knows that keeping the door open to new knowledge and information is a critical factor in what gives her the power to help others. “Let’s face it,” said Frye, “we never stop learning.”
Echo: Are you a native Arizonan?
Frye: I was born in Marin County General, in the Bay Area of San Francisco. My parents moved when I was very young to Connecticut and divorced by the time I was three. They both remarried by the time I was 5, and I grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I also spent a great deal of time at our home in Puerto Rico and skiing at our other home in Vermont. I left Connecticut at the age of 17 to attend College in Southern California but returned to NYC after college for a five-year stint in the city of dreams, before getting married and moving back to San Francisco. My then-husband and I would spend seven years there before the dot-com era and then chose a more affordable lifestyle with our newborn daughter in Scottsdale, AZ. That was 16 years ago! Arizona is our home, and we love it here. It has been so very good to my children and me. No matter where our lives take us, Arizona will always be our home and in our hearts forever.
Echo: Do you have any family you'd like to introduce our readers to? Mom/Dad? Partner? Pet?
Frye: Yes! I am the proud mother of a 15-year-old son and a daughter who is 16. My boyfriend of over two years is Mark Holland, but we call him “The Keeper.” He has a 14-year-old daughter who is absolute family to me as well. I have four rescue dogs: Mr. Flowers, a chihuahua, Peanut, a one-eyed pug, Gringa, a street dog from Puerto Rico, and MuShu, a chow and golden retriever mix. We also have Jarvis, who is a therapy snake, a bearded dragon named Bob, a parakeet named Petie, a crayfish called Mr. Crabs, and a few fish. I rescue everything!
Echo: You’ve passionately helped many Phoenix organizations – can you talk about how and why those particular organizations have been vital for you to assist?
Frye: Oh, this is a hard and emotional one. I mean, how can I even begin? It is asking me to outline the shape of my heart and soul. It all started with Phoenix Children’s Hospital. I decided I would volunteer for their camp for children with cancer in Prescott, AZ. I had no idea that what I was about to do would become the very outline for my business, and the way I would live my life. I had a life-changing experience in those woods with those magical children -- so much so that I continued to volunteer for ten years. At that point, I realized I needed to do that for every single one of the organizations I was working for. I needed to volunteer, trail, and spend time with the very people I was hired to raise funds for. Next came Hospice of the Valley, where I stayed for five years, then Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central AZ, where I got to be a big sister for six years. one •n• ten and gay camp followed, for another six years, and the list goes on and on and on. I began to realize that the key to my life, was not only in raising funds for these organizations but in spending time with the very people they were assisting. Phoenix has a magnificent, literal rainbow, of nonprofits and organizations dedicated to so many underserved and overlooked groups of individuals, that I started to realize I was living exactly where I was supposed to be living, and by volunteering with them, I was truly living!
Echo: Auctioneering, for you, came by default. You just took to it right away, right? Did it just feel natural? Thrilling?
Frye: If there is a “Type A” personality, then I am “Triple A!” I took to auctioneering like a skydiver free-jumping from the Empire State Building. I was instantly hooked!
Echo: For many years, auctioneering been somewhat of a male-dominated field. Have you felt any adversity as a woman working in that arena?
Frye: I hate to say this because, in the long run, I gained the respect and friendship of many of the men that once tried to stop my career in its tracks, but the answer is yes. At my first job, three male auctioneers locked arms at the entrance to the warehouse I was working in that day and tried to block me from entering. Mind you; I was there to chant eight hours with swamp coolers in 110-degree heat for $100 a day while they worked for thousands of dollars in an air-conditioned room. I also took the jobs they would not, selling salvage title vehicles, often covered in blood from crime scenes repossessed by the police, selling in Spanish, as I am bilingual, also outside in hot weather conditions. I once had an auctioneer in Texas try and keep me from getting licensed in his state and write crude and fake things about me in an email to my client. That same auctioneer once asked me, “When are you gonna be a good little girl and stay home and be a wife like you ought to?” I simply told him what I told all the other men: “Watch your back because I am a hungry, motivated single mother out to feed and raise her kids, which means I am gunning for your job, and I aim to get it. To be honest, though, no one man stood in the way of my career more than the woman that owned that entire company I started with. She made sure I was always held down and pushed further than any man she had ever hired. She said it was for my own good. She may have been right, but it still hurt very badly. She eventually ended up in jail for embezzlement, but I’d go to bat for her any day, as I believe her tough love helped make me what I am today.
Echo: You are working locally to internationally. How do you decide what projects and events to tackle?
Frye: I was once asked, as a finalist, by a panel of judges for the Athena Award, what is one mistake I’ve made in my career. My answer was putting money first. I learned a long time ago the difference between feeding my bank account and feeding my soul. My criteria for who I will take on is simple; they must represent a group of people who will otherwise go without. For me, that is children, abused women, LGBTQ youth and adults, the sick, the elderly, helpless animals, and of course, our veterans. Remember, I volunteer for each of my clients, I do this to become impassioned for their mission, and who they serve, so these groups mentioned above bring out the fire in my soul and the determination to help each of them to my fullest capacity. They feed my soul.
Echo: You have done so much and received a multitude of awards. Please brag a little – tell us some of those achievements.
Frye: Ok, never easy for me to do this, so I will list some I can remember off the top of my head:
- AZ Foothills Best of the Valley Auctioneer 6 years straight
- one •n• ten Babe Caylor award for individual leadership in the LGBTQ community
- Awarded the Letitia Frye Humanitarian Award from St Jude Children’s Research Hospital
- Received one •n• ten’s Letitia Frye Award for excellence in fundraising
- Received the Curetivity Award for dedication to the children of St Jude Children’s Research Hospital
- Awarded for being the highest marathon fundraiser for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital
- Received a Women in Business Award for excellence
- Finalist for the Greater Phoenix Chamber Athena Award
- Reader of the Year, Kids Read USA
Echo: Tell us some of the people you’ve had great experiences working with.
Frye: Some of my favorite people I have worked with include Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, Winona Judd, Robby Krieger (The Doors), Brett Michaels, Temple Grandin, Darius Rucker, Tommy Thayer (Kiss), Alex Lifeson (Rush), Danny Sarafine (Chicago), Kaitlyn Jenner, Earth, Wind and Fire, Slash, Sammy Hagar, Rob Halford (Judas Priest), John Ham, Jeremy Piven, Tony Bennett, Patrick Warburton, John O’Hurley, Bo Derek, Michael Strahan, T Boone Pickens, Kelly and Jack Osbourne, and Flo Rida. To be honest, the list goes on and on; I have to pinch myself just thinking about it, and I am honestly getting overwhelmed trying to write about it, there are just too many to mention. I am both blessed and humbled.
Echo: Alright, have to ask – your bio mentions your love of shoes. Is there a big collection? Details!
Frye: I used to have a huge collection! That was until I lost a dear friend to AIDS who worked for Jimmy Choo. The way he was treated during his illness, diagnosis, and ultimate release from his job in his greatest time of need, led me to a completely different outlook on shoes, and that company. For one, I no longer will wear Jimmy Choo’s, even though his dying message to me was to, “Keep rocking Jimmy Choo’s no matter what.” After his passing, I came across Christian Louboutin’s, and to me, they are the most comfortable heel in the world. Nowadays, I am mostly seen in a simple nude or black patent leather pair of either of these shoes with everything. Truth be told, I have about four pairs of each in those colors.
Echo: What would you consider your greatest feat?
Frye: Raising my children. They are by far my greatest gift, coupled with my greatest challenge. Although we were no longer together as a couple, their father and I tried to raise our children as a team. I always hoped their dad and I would raise our kids in partnership. He passed away about four years ago, leaving me to raise them completely alone physically, financially, and emotionally. This has proven to be my greatest challenge, my greatest reward, and my greatest feat, by far.
Echo: Do you consider yourself a role model? And who do you consider some of your role models?
Frye: I never considered myself a role model until my son was asked to write a project in second grade on his hero in life. He was and still is, a huge sports fan, so I assumed the would choose Larry Fitzgerald or another of his very-deserving heroes. Turns out, he wrote about me for that project. He has written many since then and still accounts me as his hero. In me, he sees a woman who puts her needs aside to help others, while never losing sight of her family. To him, a young man, these are the attributes of a role model as he strives to become a good and complete adult man. He helped me learn that I could be a role model for others, and also the enormous responsibility that comes with that. I was extremely irresponsible in my youth, a black sheep for sure, so the idea of being a role model never dawned on me. However, the more I studied my role models, they too were once black sheep. Danny Thomas dropped out of high school, Mother Theresa was considered a rabble-rouser and often in trouble with the church, and Alice Cooper was not always a sober, model Christian. Role model is a heavy title, and I have always said, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” as it comes with great responsibility.
Echo: What advice do you have for anyone looking to dedicate more time to a cause they feel passionately about?
Frye: Get in it!!! Don’t sit on the sidelines of life, dive in! Find what makes your heart sing, what makes your soul come alive and jump in both feet first, and never look back! I recently was studying about our (Arizona’s) famed pizza chef, Chris Bianco to better sell an item of his at auction. Chef Chris went, reluctantly to visit a dying Father Joe in Hospice. Once there, he asked the father what his advice was from the bed he now laid in. Father Joe told the chef that eventually we will all end up in that bed, and we will all ask for more time, but the answer will be no, so don’t waste the time you have. I could not have said it better if I tried. I have sat with countless children and adults who were in their final days, I have faced death myself, as well as the death of those nearest and dearest to me. Do not waste time -- get out there and live the life you dream of, give back to those who make your heart and soul feel alive. Don’t make excuses for not doing it now!
Echo: If you could summarize your efforts and experiences in 2018, what would you say?
Frye: Well, this is the part where I start to cry. There have been many years with far more physical and psychological challenges than this one, but none can compare when it comes to personal growth. I have lost my beloved boyfriend’s son, Aksel to death by suicide, only to go forward to raise the most funds ever raised for the youth of one •n• ten in his honor. I lost my beloved Colin, a young boy who touched my heart, along with his family, like no other in their fight against cancer, only to go on to raise the most money ever in Arizona as a marathon runner for team St Jude. I lost my father and sat with him in his final days, only to learn how much I could do for abused women in his name and honor. I had finally found love again after tremendous heartache, only to have it snatched by the thief that is grief. Through that grief, however, I found my source of strength in seeing the plight of my beloved and learning how to help him. 2018 will always be the year that I found my greatest strength hidden amongst my seemingly-greatest losses. I finally realized I was the woman and human being I once only hoped to be, but that it wasn’t about what I could achieve to become her, but rather, what I could give when all had been taken from me over and over that would bring about my most significant growth. 2018 is nothing short of what I lovingly phrase as ‘bidder sweet,’ a play on words, but certainly not on hearts.
Echo: What’s up next for you?
Frye: A published book, a broader speaking arena to help more people in both business and personal growth, mentoring women free of charge consistently, continuing to give back while learning the delicate art of balance, to love again without fear, to raise eagles not doves, and to always remember each day is a gift.
Echo: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Frye: I’d just like to share this quote from Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
Congratulations to the Class of 2018! Meet the rest of the inductees here.