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Food and Beverage Icon Johnny Orr Passes At 76
Published:
9/10/2015 11:08:52 AM


John Orr
 
By Barney Blakeney


For over half a century Johnny Orr Sr. has been an intricate part of the local food and beverage industry.

An extraordinary businessman who knew food and beverage inside and out from the ground up, Orr was an exceptional individual who touched many lives through the business he loved and the people to whom he was dedicated. He died August 31 at age 76.

There’s so much one can say about Johnny Orr. Perhaps one word - devoted - captures much of who he was. Johnny Orr was devoted to his family, his craft, the people he loved and to those who loved him. Some other words also characterize Johnny Orr the man - “gentleman”, “a class act”, “mentor” and “friend”.

I had the honor and pleasure of getting to know Johnny Orr when I became an adult. His wife, Yvonne Tolley Orr taught me English in high school. In class she often spoke of her family. The young couple was just starting their family and Mrs. Orr had their first two children, Michelle and Johnny Jr., during my five years under her watch at C.A. Brown High.

Johnny Orr met his wife when Yvonne Tolley was 13. They weren’t allowed to date until she was 16. She married Johnny at 21. She says she’s known him all her life.

Born in 1939, Orr grew up on Charleston’s Eastside. He was one of seven children born to Warren and Viola Orr in Savannah, Ga., but was raised since a toddler by Willie and Dorothy Zeigler as the eldest of five children. Mrs. Zeigler was a manager in food service. Johnny followed in the tradition.

Orr began working in the food and beverage industry at 15 when he started washing dishes at the Charleston Yacht Club.

Study, diligence, and hard work paid off as Orr moved from the dishwasher to the dining room.

He in the dining room waiting tables at the Yacht Club. Eventually he became the Maitre d’ and ultimately became assistant manager in charge of operations over food and beverage. His rise in the business came more from what the Burke High School graduate already had learned than from what he was learning.

“I’m a perfectionist. I guess I got it from my mother. Even when I clean the house I finish one room at a time before I go to another,” said Orr in a 2004 interview. His developing skills weren’t honed in some accommodations classroom, but rather through on the job training.

Many mentors contributed their wisdom and experience to Orr’s repertoire of skills. A succession of responsibilities and people associated with those responsibilities combined to represent the whole of his experience. Those experiences helped Orr learn the skills necessary to determine costs set prices and schedule employees. Skills that made him an icon in the local industry.

Orr served 18 years as food and beverage manager at Charleston Place. He retired June 30, 2004. He said he decided to call it quits while he still was in good health and could enjoy family and friends.

Orr is survived by his wife; his children: Michelle Orr Noisette, Johnny L. Orr Jr., Noelle Orr Blaney, and adopted son Augustine Olalere; seven grandchildren;p a sister, Ms. Laura Faye Adams; a brother, William Zeigler; a sister-in-law, Lolita Tolley Hook; and three brothers-in-law, James Tolley, Joseph Tolley and Michael Tolley.
 

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