Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pence Billings Orr (1883-1947)

Portrait from the 1928 History of Will County, Vol. I.

   The life of longtime Joliet, Illinois attorney Pence Billings Orr is highlighted today, and in addition to practicing law Mr. Orr made a name for himself in public service, being a high ranking figure in the Illinois chapter of the American Legion, an assistant attorney general of Illinois, and a two-time candidate for the Illinois State Senate in 1914 and 1922.
   A resident of Indiana for the first two decades of his life, Pence Billings Orr was born in Bartholomew County in that state on March 9, 1883. The son of local Judge John C. and Rose Billings Orr, Pence B. Orr graduated from the Columbus, Indiana High School in the class of 1901. Shortly afterward he began the study of law at the University of Indianapolis, earning his law degree in 1905. Admitted to the bar in May 1905, Orr soon removed to Joliet, Illinois, where he spent several months of further study in the law office of Judge George L. Cowing. Orr later established his own law practice in Joliet which he operated until enlisting for service in the First World War. He underwent training at Camp Gordon in Georgia and upon completion joined Company D., 2nd U.S. Infantry. During his service Orr attained the rank of sergeant and was honorably discharged in January 1919Within a few weeks of his leaving the Army Pence Orr married to Edith V. Johnson (1896-1996), with whom he would have one daughter, Emilia Rose. 
   Following his marriage Orr returned to practicing law in Joliet and during the early 1920s served as assistant attorney general of Illinois under Edward Brundage (the state attorney general from 1917-25.) Prior to serving in the attorney general's office Orr had made his first step towards elective office, becoming a candidate for the Illinois State Senate in 1914. Running on the Progressive Party platform, Pence Orr was one of four candidates from the 41st district, and on election day polled a respectable 7,069 votes, placing second to Republican nominee Richard L. Barr's total of 9, 569.

Pence Billings Orr, from the March 5, 1930 Farmer's Weekly.

   Eight years after his unsuccessful bid for the state assembly Pence Orr made another run for the state senate, running in the April 1922 primary. Orr's opponent in that year's primary was incumbent senator Richard J. Barr, the same man who had defeated him several years earlier. On election day (April 11, 1922) it was Richard Barr who again emerged the victor, besting Orr by over 5,000 votes. Barr would go on to serve a total of 48 years in the Illinois legislature, retiring in 1950 at age 85.
   Following this second defeat Orr returned to practicing law and for a time served as assistant commissioner on the Illinois Commerce Commission. A longstanding member of the Knights of Pythias fraternal organization, Orr served a one year term as Grand Chancellor of the Knights of Pythias of Illinois from 1924-25. He maintained memberships in several other fraternal groups, including the Joliet Commandary of the Knights Templar, No.4., the Loyal Order of Moose, the Modern Woodmen of America, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Joliet Chapter of Royal Arch Masons.
   In early 1934 Pence B. Orr reemerged on the political stage when he announced that he'd be seeking the Republican nomination for Judge of Will County, Illinois. His record as a lawyer was highlighted in a campaign advertisement in the March 28 1934 Farmer's Weekly, which touted Orr as having "never held public office" whilst also noting that he had:
"A keen perception of human nature. He understands Children and has made an intensive study of the Delinquent Child Problem, which is the major problem of the County Court. He is HONEST, FAIR, PROGRESSIVE and HUMANE."
An Orr campaign notice from the March 28, 1934 Farmer's Weekly.

   Little could be found on the outcome of the 1934 election in regards to Orr's candidacy. What is known is that Orr was unsuccessful in his bid, victory instead going to Democratic nominee George N. Blatt Sr., who took office as Judge in 1935. 
   The remainder of Pence B. Orr's life saw him continue with his Joliet based law practice, as well as activity in the American Legion. As a veteran of WWI, Orr had attended the "organizing caucus" of the American Legion in 1919 and from 1919-20 served as a member of the American Legion of Illinois' executive committee. He was a charter member of the American Legion's Harwood Post #5 and was named as its commander in 1923. After many years of prominence in Joliet, Pence Billings Orr died at age 64 on September 3, 1947. He was shortly thereafter interred at the Elmhurst Cemetery in Joliet and was survived by his wife Edith, who died on August 19, 1996, just eleven days shy of her 100th birthday.

Pence Orr's death notice from the Sept. 5, 1947 Chicago Tribune.

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