by Ray Newton
Prescott residents and officials remembered former City Councilwoman Billie Orr’s dedication to the community and improving education after she died Jan. 7 at age 75.
City Manager Michael Lamar said Orr was a “dignified and loyal civic and public servant who always was seeking to build bridges and do whatever she could for the good of all citizens.”
Greg Mengarelli, who was mayor while Orr was on the council, said she constantly was looking to make things better for people.
“I admired her priorities — God, family and city, and she lived those priorities during her time in Prescott,” he said.
Orr lived in Prescott from the early 2010s until health issues in the summer of 2021 forced her and husband Bob to relocate to Scottsdale.
Orr was especially visible in Prescott when she began her first of two terms with the City Council in 2015. She became a leader in what was called the “Yes for Prescott’ campaign in 2017.
At that time, the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) had created a tax burden of $78 million unfunded liability debt that the City was obligated to pay. Orr and several of her colleagues decided the way to reduce that liability was to pay a dedicated ¾ of a penny sales taxes dedicated solely to paying down the PSPRS.
That proposition was passed in a public referendum and was so successful that in fall 2022, the City found itself in solid enough financial position to withdraw from assessing that tax. The General Fund is considered stabilized.
Orr often found herself credited as being the “brains” behind that financial decision. She was re-elected in 2019 and served as mayor pro tem 2017 to 2020.
Active career, educator,
Orr, born in Mississippi, grew up in what she called “rock-scrabble” circumstances. Early on, she began focusing her long-term goals on education. She visited Arizona in the late 1960s, established residency and enrolled at Mesa Community College.
She went on to Arizona State University, where she earned a teaching degree and began a career at the Madison School District in Phoenix. She concurrently enrolled in a master’s program at ASU.
In a 2021 Prescott Living interview, Orr said she was in Arizona from 1967 until 2003. She and Bob moved briefly to Hawaii but were there only eight months. “We looked at Arizona again but decided to check out Wyoming and Montana. We landed in Bozeman, and were there eight years,” she said.
Orr said she was active with her church and Montana Bible College, and that’s what prompted her to enroll in a Ph.D. leadership program at ASU.
Her husband was a cargo pilot in the Air Force, and they moved five times in three years. They also had a son,
Porter (married to Jennifer) and three grandchildren.
Upon returning to Arizona, Lisa Graham Keegan, then-superintendent of Schools, invited Orr to work for the state, which she did for four years. Orr also became involved in Republican political issues.
For a short term, Orr worked with President George W. Bush’s administration in improving education standards nationwide.
In Prescott, Orr also was involved with Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Frontier Rotary Club, the Imagination Library at the Prescott Library and several boards and volunteer organizations. She helped create the local pickleball complex at Pioneer Park.
Prescott Mayor Phil Goode said he and his colleagues were sorry on hearing of Orr’s death. “She served the community of Prescott very well during her time here.”
Orr’s memorial service was Jan. 14 in Scottsdale at Paradise Memorial Garden.