A DESERVING RECIPIENT OF THE 2012 NORDMAN PUBLIC SERVICE AWARD – JOHN C. ORR, By Janet L. Mertes

“We are fortunate to be lawyers,” says John Orr, one of the principal partners of Ferguson Case Orr Paterson LLP. Over the years, John has come to recognize that his education and skills have afforded him many opportunities to serve our local community, and serve he does! John donates his time, resources, and legal talents to the Museum of Ventura County, several Ventura and Ojai schools, sports teams, our agricultural community and colleges, to name just a few. He serves on several boards of directors and feels that board service is his niche to giving because he enjoys the full gambit of board activities, from group interaction and decision-making through the drafting tasks lawyers are frequently asked to take on. 

John says he believes “Everybody has a unique fit for giving, just find your place and be generous with you time and resources,” and he is proud of how legal professionals supportVenturaCounty. 

GETTING TO KNOW JOHN…

John is a 4th-generation Ventura County lawyer and 3rd-generation farmer. His law career follows those of his great-grandfather, Orestes Orlando Orr, grandfather, H. Frank Orr, and father, Frank E. Orr.  John attended USC, where he majored in history, followed by Santa Clara School of Law. After graduating law school, John returned to Ventura. Here, he joined his family firm of Benton, Orr, Duval & Buckingham, which was founded by his great-grandfather in 1882. When he joined the firm, John committed to his father to practice law for five years. “After that, who knows,” John recalled thinking at the time. 

In 1982, John left his family’s firm to co-found Case, Orr & Cunningham, which would later become  Ferguson Case Orr Paterson LLP. This move symbolized the first time he made the personal commitment to practicing law as a career. John currently practices estate planning, trusts and probate. His firm is among the most active in the county. It generously sponsors and donates to numerousVenturaCountycharities.

Partner and friend Michael Case expresses pride when describing John’s achievements.  Case says that John has made generous personal donations under the name of the firm so as to not draw attention to himself. If you ever have the opportunity to visit their office, you will find wonderful photos and paintings depicting historic building and farming scenes throughout the county, many of which are provided by John. 

In addition to practicing law, John is a local avocado and lemon rancher. His wife, Stephanie, is also a local rancher. Their 20-year-old son, Nick, attends Middlebury College in Vermont. John enjoys traveling with his wife, collecting local art, duck hunting and entertaining friends and family at his Faria Beach home.

Getting to know John means knowing that he is as generous as he is friendly. Friends and business associates describe John as “humble,” “visionary,” “humorous” and “just a good guy.” John believes that donating time, skills, and personal funds is an important part of his responsibility as a person.

In the early 1980’s, John’s friend Frederick Twichell, gave John the idea that donating ten percent of one’s income to charities is part of our civic responsibility. John took this advice, and more, to heart.

A colleague described a recent weekend when John scheduled an impromptu event at his Somis avocado orchard. It was time to take the tomato plants out for the year, so he naturally thought to invite some friends associates and their children to clean off the remaining fruit before removing the plants. The guests arrived to find John cooking a spectacular outdoor breakfast for all 25 of them, including omelets, quesadillas, bacon, and locally grown fruits and vegetables.  He taught the children about the ranch, and even delighted the adults by providing quad runners to use in the orchard for entertainment. The morning activities are typical of John’s gracious demeanor. John also frequently provides donations from his orchards to our local food banks and schools.

 PERSONAL BEST…

John has local roots and a deep appreciation of Ventura County history. He was a history major in college. This combination made him the perfect person to serve on the board of directors of the Museum of Ventura County, as he has for several years. In 2008, when the recession was at its height and construction costs were soaring, the Museum was expanding. Through John’s guidance, the Museum raised funds to complete its much-needed Phase I expansion and remodel. The improvements were completed during his tenure. John is most proud of this achievement because of the contribution the museum makes to Ventura County. The Museum is not only a cultural gathering place for the Ventura County community but also a highly sought-after venue for weddings and other celebrations. Members of the board of directors have said that completion of the project would not have been possible had it not been for John’s leadership and ability to bring people together to make things happen. John describes his contribution to the project as his, “way of committing and being of use to the community.”  The remodeled facility with a new pavilion and courtyard is truly John’s legacy.

CAREER BEST…

Bringing people together is what John does best, and his most rewarding career moment exemplifies the passion John has for helping others. About 30 years ago, an older woman was referred to John to prepare a Will. Her husband had put her in convalescent care, a decision with which she didn’t agree. In interviewing the woman, John learned his client wanted to leave all her assets not to her husband, but to her daughter, with whom the woman had not been in touch for 52 years, and whose whereabouts were unknown. Furthermore, the lack of communication within the family was due to racial tension between the mother, her daughter and her son-in-law. John describes the distance as a result of the era in which the client came of age. He decided to conduct extensive research for his client and located the daughter, who lived thousands of miles away. By using a series of lawyers to maintain confidentiality, John was able to determine that the daughter wanted to reunite with her mother, and his client wanted to do the same. John proceeded to arrange the meeting in California. The clients were so thankful for his efforts that they invited him to attend their  reunification. He said that witnessing this event was one of the greatest days of his life. 

As it turned out, the client’s daughter was suffering a terminal condition and passed away within a year of their reunification. The client also passed shortly thereafter. However, the daughter’s children were entering their college years at the same time, so the funds passed down to the grandchildren to fund their college educations. To this day, John is in touch with the extended family.

COMMUNITY ELEMENT…

John is a unique recipient of this award in that he represents a significant local link in our global farming economy. As a rancher, John is always looking for ways to make growing and harvesting more effective. Through his board work with Index Fresh, he discovered that Chileans have innovative approaches to farming avocados. John reached south of the equator and made connections by partnering with Chilean farmers to expand his knowledge base. John has repeatedly made trips to Chile to learn cultural growing practices that he employs in his own avocado orchards and shares with other local farmers. 

Additionally, John supports the Ventura High School’s girls basketball team by donating chopped wood each year for the girls to sell as fire wood. They pre-sell pick up truck loads of wood, go to the orchard and help load the trucks for pick up by local families. Their coach loves this local “quirky” fundraiser. She says it has not only supported athletics over the years, but has provided “country life” exposure to many on the team who have never left the beach city. The team looks forward to their trip to John’s ranch every year. 

In addition to the wood donations, John regularly hauls avocados to The Thacher School in Ojai for the kitchen staff to use in food preparation. The students look forward to the guacamole parties hosted by John.

John is an avid supporter of education. In  the 1990’s, he spearheaded an effort by his firm to voluntarily support the History Department at Ventura High School during a time funding was being withdrawn by the State. He has quietly provided scholarships to needy students at Ventura College for decades and in one case made an anonymous donation so one of the firm’s employees could complete her education at Sonoma State.

Currently, John also serves the Del Norte Water Company (President of Board of Directors), Oxnard Drainage District No. 2 (Secretary and General Counsel), Ventura County Game Preserve (Member), Index Fresh (Member of Board of Directors and Treasurer), Museum of Ventura County(Chairman of Board of Directors), and theVentura County Community Foundation (Member of the Technical Advisory Board).

Modestly, John accepts this award on behalf of all Ventura County’s lawyers who provide countless hours of volunteer service. He says that the efforts he has made over the years and continues to make are a product of his responsibility and desire to serve the community that has, in turn, given him a great deal of joy. In his words, “I represent all of us.”

Janet L. Mertes runs the Camarillo-based bankruptcy, estate and family law practice of The Law Offices of  Janet L. Mertes.

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