a man holding a large crab in the water
Orr was known as a driving force behind the Marathon Seafood Festival and ambassador for the Organized Fishermen of Florida. ANDY NEWMAN/Florida Keys News Bureau

As word of Bennett Orr’s passing spread through the Marathon community, our staff at the Weekly thought about the best way to honor a community legend. We reached out to more than a dozen of Bennet’s closest friends and family members, asking them to remember Bennett in their own words. The more we spoke to those who knew and loved Bennett, the more a single word emerged: “icon.” Here’s what else we learned:

“To us he was BUBBA, and to those he liked a lot or loved maybe were Bubba too. He and Jimmy Buffet will be cruising the seas of the fabulous Florida Keys together. We will miss you always and love you forever. ‘Wherever you see flowers in the sea, think of me.’” – Lisa Orr-Donnelly; Ted, Emily and Olivia Donnelly

“My childhood memories are filled with trips to the Keys to visit Bennett and Becky. Growing up listening to his countless fishing stories and sharing a common love for the ocean. The Marathon Seafood Festivals we attended annually were treasured times of bonding for our family. He brought so much joy to our family gatherings each year for birthday get togethers, Thanksgivings, and Christmases. I’ll always think of him when I pass Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, remembering how much he loved them. While his absence is deeply felt by our entire family, the memories and traditions he helped establish continue to resonate with us and all his buddies in Marathon. Every fishing story, ocean visit or reminiscence of a shared moment together serves as a reminder of the great presence he was in our lives. We love you Bennett.” – Michelle Day Russell, Bennett’s niece

“Bennett Orr embodied what the Keys are about. He was a straightforward, honest man. If you didn’t want to hear the truth you wouldn’t ask Bennett. He was quiet by nature, but always a wise old soul. One of my most memorable conversations with Bennett was concerning his relationship with Christ. In true Bennett fashion, he quietly and firmly let me know he had made his peace, ending our conversation with that tilted head smile I had come to cherish over the years. Bennett Orr will be missed, and his impact on Marathon and every life he met was unmistakable.” – Nick Vaughn, Pastor, Marathon Church of God

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Bennett taught me how to work hard for the things that I needed. He was firm, yet fair. He was a man of touch and love. Bennett is the only person I ever knew that enjoyed working in the sun. In his last days of life, he would always say, ‘Just take me to the sun, put me in the sun.’ If only he knew he was the sunshine in our life. His unfiltered sense of humor always brightened my day, and if you don’t believe me, I’ll just leave you with his favorite saying – ‘Go ask Becky.’ His love will always shine bright in my heart.” – Carolyn Hayes-Yearby

“Bennett is the love of my life, and we were blessed to have almost 50 years together.” – Becky Orr

“We worked with nature to make a living for ourselves and others. We were fishermen. That about sums it up, and that’s what we talked about.” – Dan Yeider

“Everybody loved Bennett. When we’d go out to eat at Frank’s Grill, all those waitresses would come over, and they just loved Bennett. Every time we went there it was like that. I don’t know what kind of charisma he had, but these women loved Bennett. When I met him, he pulled up to a campfire we had at Knight’s Key and brought out two fish boxes full of fresh ‘light’ stone crab claws. He dumped them out to all us hippies sitting there on the ground, and we thought we’d died and went to heaven. That was Bennett.” – Daniel Kern

“Bennett got work pulling traps, and he fell in love with it. He loved the water and loved the ocean – it was the perfect job for a surly guy who likes to be left alone. Some people know him as a surly guy, but for me, he was nothing but steadfast love that I could rely on. Whenever I needed something, he and Becky were always there for me through all kinds of crises.” – Meredith Brand, Bennett’s goddaughter


“I hired him to work at Knight’s Key campground. He had never driven a truck, so he backed one into a telephone pole. He was a hard worker – you couldn’t outwork Bennett. But the main thing about him was his tremendous personality. People just liked him immediately because he was so outgoing. He went to work for a guy on a crab boat, and he’d bring in bags of stone crab ‘light’ claws to eat around the campfire. We stayed friends, and when I became engaged to a girl I met at Knight’s Key, he was my best man. He traveled up to Virginia and put on a suit – I don’t know if anybody’s ever seen him in a suit and tie besides me. That’s the kind of friends we were. I can’t say enough good about him.” – Ed Leonard

“Marathon, OFF and Becky Orr and family have lost one of the most decent men I have ever met. When I worked for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, I always had an informational booth at the Marathon Seafood Festival. I would load my tent, table, chairs and brochures and fishing regs booklets into a small van myself and take it to the field to set up. Since I was one of only two staff that lived in Marathon, I did the event myself and invited FWC to participate. I set the booth up myself and Bennett and a couple of other fishermen would help me with the heavy stuff. I was so grateful. After the festival was over he would help me load up. I often met him in the supermarket in Marathon and he always said hello and asked how I was doing. I did the same back. He always spoke so highly of Becky during those encounters. Even when the Sanctuary was being designated and there was controversy on how it would be managed, Bennett and OFF worked with the Sanctuary on behalf of the commercial fishermen to come up with a management plan and regulations that protected coral, fish and all the reef inhabitants. Not all fishermen were so cooperative, but the knowledgeable fishermen like Bennett worked hard to do the right thing. I gained so much respect for them. It was a rough time in Marathon even wearing my staff shirt out in public. But both sides worked to protect the Keys and its valuable natural resources.” – Joy Tatgenhorst