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Class of 1960

Friends and colleagues are mourning the loss of Decatur attorney and former Georgia Trial Lawyers Association president W. Fred Orr II, who died Monday at Hospice Atlanta after a four-month battle with cancer. He was 68.

A graduate of Emory University Law School, Orr's career included 45 years as a plaintiffs' lawyer, handling a variety of cases and focusing on medical malpractice. He was known for winning record verdicts for his clients as well as for stopping the construction of the Presidential Parkway and helping to defend former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell. He was interested in politics and supported and encouraged friends to run for office. A former state championship basketball player at Brown High School who stood 6-foot-5, Orr had a commanding presence and a gift for connecting with people-including clients and jurors-that led to success as a trial lawyer and a mentor. Orr was the kind of person who made others around him feel better about themselves, according to Georgia Trial Lawyers Association President-Elect Geoff Pope, who served with Orr on the group's executive committee. Said Pope, "He'd find something you had done and compliment you rather than focusing on himself."

"It's hard to put into words the measure of a man like Fred. He was one of the great champions of justice," said attorney Timothy J. Santelli. "He put his clients' interests first and foremost. He would do anything for his clients. He would do anything for his family. He would do anything for his friends." Santelli added, "Outside of my wife, he was my favorite person I've ever met in my life. He was like a father to me."

Orr's last case was his biggest win, a $9.25 million verdict in DeKalb State Court in September 2009. The punitive portion of the award was $8.5 million, nearly $2 million more than Orr had requested. According to the Daily Report story on that trial from Sept. 29, 2009, after the verdict was read, 10 of the 12 jurors gave Orr a bear hug. Two of the three named defendants settled before the trial ended. The verdict was levied against Boston Men's Health Center Inc. for an erectile dysfunction therapy that caused permanent damage to Orr's client, then 53-year-old truck driver John Henry Howard.

Orr was also part of former Atlanta Mayor Campbell's defense team, which succeeded in obtaining an acquittal on an array of bribery and corruption charges after an eight-week jury trial in U. S. District Court. Campbell was convicted on three counts of tax violations.

His law partner at Orr & Edwards, James G. "Smokey" Edwards II, said one of Orr's proudest achievements was stopping the Presidential Parkway, a stretch of freeway that would have connected the Carter Presidential Library near Downtown Atlanta to the Stone Mountain Freeway and Interstate 285, destroying hundreds of historic homes in the Druid Hills neighborhood as well as churches, parks, virgin forest and Fernbank Science Center. As lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Orr secured a permanent restraining order from the late Osgood O. Williams, then Fulton County Superior Court judge, after a three-day non-jury trial.

Before he began practicing with Edwards in 1976, Orr's partner was R. Keegan Federal Jr., who left the law practice to challenge an incumbent judge and win election to the DeKalb County Superior Court. Federal served on the bench for eight years, then returned to private practice.

Orr also was proud of and well known for mentoring younger people, not only with the trial lawyers association but informally among friends, including through a weekly conversational gathering that included attorneys and other professionals of all ages known as the "Friday lunch bunch." Edwards, who was not part of the lunch bunch, said, "I think he may have enjoyed that about as much as anything he did."

Santelli, who was part of the lunch group and one of Orr's closest friends, remembers looking around the table and commenting that every decade was represented. The group included people in their 20s through their 70s. "Fred could identify with everybody. It was amazing. His ability to reach out and touch people just astounded me," said Santelli, 45, who first met Orr through their mutual interest in politics. He said Orr inspired him to go to law school and become a plaintiffs' lawyer. "I wanted to be like him," he said.

Santelli compared Orr to Andy Griffith's fictional Atlanta lawyer Ben Matlock. "He was a true Southern gentleman. He knew the ideals of the system and never wanted to cross the line, even when people did it against him," Santelli said. "It was a pleasure to watch him in court, the way he would lean over to the microphone. He could undress someone without being mean."

Something about Orr's presence-his passion and believability-gave him power in the courtroom. "He was very truthful and honest and had a way about him that jurors felt," said Edwards, his law partner for more than 35 years. "It was not uncommon for Fred in a closing argument to have a small tear tickle down his cheek, which was as absolutely real as real can be."

Orr's connection with people came from genuinely caring about them, friends said. "He really always did see the best in people and was the sweetest, most upbeat person I've ever known. There was not a cynical bone in his body. Everybody loved Fred Orr, and he loved them back," said Robert B. Teilhet, the lawyer and member of the state House of Representatives who is now running for attorney general of Georgia.

Teilhet said even as recently as this past year, he was moved by the depth of Orr's passion for his work. Teilhet and Orr met with a woman whose husband had died in her arms after a wrong diagnosis led him to a fatal heart attack. "When she told her story, he got teared up and emotional. He really cared about people," said Teilhet. "He'd heard every story in the book, but he wasn't callous. It was as though he'd never heard a story like this before."

As an experienced plaintiffs' lawyer, Teilhet said, "when you lose a few, and you lose your own money, it makes a lot of us gun shy. Fred just never was that way."

Also part of Orr and Santelli's Friday lunch group, Teilhet said they were the first two people he asked-besides his wife-before deciding to run for attorney general. "Fred believed in me and that made me believe in me. He was always able to give people that," said Teilhet. "Fred always thought you would win your case. And he always thought he would win his case."

Orr's optimism seems to be the characteristic most often mentioned by friends and colleagues. "Fred was singularly the most positive person I've ever known in my life," said his partner, Edwards. "Sometimes we'd leave a meeting and I'd say, 'what a jerk!' He'd say, 'what are you talking about? He seems nice to me.' He just didn't see the bad in people. He was so beloved and liked because he just didn't find fault. He gave people respect, and people gave it back to him."

Orr was born in Atlanta on July 5, 1941. He is survived by four children and five grandchildren, as well as his wife, Margaret H. Drummond. They were married this past January by DeKalb County State Court Judge Alvin T. Wong in a courtroom in front of a jury.

Said Wong, "It's one of the few things a judge can do that could bring true joy. I'm so glad it was a good moment for him."

In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to the "Fred Orr Memorial Scholarship Fund" set up by the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, c/o First Citizens Bank, Attention Tracey Smith, 3270 Florence Road, Powder Springs, GA 30127.

Staff Reporter Katheryn Hayes Tucker can be reached at ktucker@alm.com

Note: If you have any information with respect to dates of death or other information about these people, or know of people not listed here, please, contact me here.

I have incorporated the Brown High portion of the list maintained by Gary Jerald (Brown 1969) for Brown, Southwest and Sylvan into the list here. My thanks to Robert Davenport (Brown 1951) and Betty Harbin Gunnin (Southwest 1955) for forwarding this list to me.