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J.L. Schmidt

Capitol View

Nebraska Press Association

We pause now to remember a great guy

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bill Orr was the First Gentleman for the four years that his wife served as the nation's first Republican woman ever elected as Governor. He died May 5 at age 78.

Kay Orr was the eighth woman to serve as a state governor. She was not only the first Republican but also the first woman elected governor over another female major party candidate and the first (and only) woman to serve as Governor of Nebraska. There have been 34 women governors in the United States.

With all of those firsts under the roof of the governor's mansion, Bill Orr was one traditional guy. The First Gentleman in a world of First Ladies. He once told a reporter that he loved to eat and knew that he had to learn his way around the kitchen as his wife focused on her political career.

An insurance executive with a penchant for community service, Bill Orr rose to the task when plans were approved for a much-needed upgrade of the aging governor's mansion. Once quoted as saying that "recipes were like the Dead Sea Scrolls," to him, he organized a cookbook and sought celebrity recipes. Proceeds from the sale of the books would help finance the restoration.

Among the contributors to the cookbook were Warren Buffett, then-first lady Barbara Bush, Johnny Carson, Tom Osborne, Bob Devaney, actress Katharine Hepburn and former first lady Nancy Reagan.

Stories about Orr and his cookbook appeared in the New York Times, People magazine and Fortune magazine. Copies of "First Gentleman's Cookbook" are still available in paperback on Amazon.com.

In his corporate life, Bill Orr was senior vice president of marketing and sales for Woodman Accident and Life Insurance. Family friend and former co-worker, Tom Henning, told the Omaha World-Herald that "Bill truly believed in life insurance and disability coverage for the peace of mind it brings a family. It wasn't about making a profit, for Bill. He really believed in his mission to make things better for people."

Orr was a storyteller and often used self-deprecating humor. He hit the campaign trail with his wife and friends say he loved meeting people and telling them a little about himself, always reminding them that she was the candidate.

I last saw Bill a couple years ago at a garage sale at his daughter's home in southeast Lincoln. My wife and I were attracted to the Saturday morning sale by a sign that said "Really Old Stuff." After I watched the former governor haggle with a couple over the price of a ceramic rooster cookie jar, I told the Orrs that I had seen the sign about really old stuff.

"Well, you found us," Bill Orr quipped without missing a beat.

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