Barrett C. Shelton Freedom Award: Senator Arthur Orr
Born in May 1964 to Blythe and Bud Orr of Danville, Alabama, Senator Arthur Orr grew up next to the Alabama Sheriff’s Boys Ranch. Whether working on the Boys Ranch, hauling 55-gallon barrels for his family’s business or loading sand at the Norfolk-Southern Railroad yard in the early morning before high school, hard work was an important part of his early years.
While attending college at Wake Forest University, Arthur served as chairman of the Honor Council and set a new fund-raising record as chairman of the Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund Drive. He received several academic honors and held numerous leadership posts while in college. He attended law school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa where he was elected as chief justice of the Honor Court, senior editor of a law review, and on the Moot Court board. While also earning academic honors in school, Arthur taught freshman English to undergraduates and regularly volunteered with Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Community Soup Bowl.
While his classmates pursued legal careers after graduation, Arthur joined the Peace Corps. He was assigned to the remote Himalayan village of Khandbari, Nepal; several days walk from the nearest road. He lived primitively with no indoor plumbing and dirt floors, teaching in the village school and conducting teacher trainings. With the financial help of friends and family in the U.S., Arthur used his legal and language training while in Nepal to establish a college scholarship program to benefit female village students. To date, over 80 village students have benefited by attending college and seeking the opportunities an education provides.
After completing his Peace Corps commitment, he returned to Decatur where he joined the law firm of Harris, Caddell and Shanks, P.C. He also served as president of the Decatur Jaycees, the Volunteer Center and Main Street Decatur and was an active board member with other organizations and his church. He also was involved with the formation and completion of a successful real estate development project. Arthur was selected as the Citizen of the Year by the Decatur Rotary Club and received other leadership awards from various organizations. He was honored as a “Community Hero” to carry the 1996 Olympic Torch in Morgan County.
Hired by Habitat for Humanity International for a three-year period, he was assigned to establish a new Habitat program in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh program was built from scratch and, to-date, has constructed over 500 houses in partnership with the working poor residents of that country. Arthur also served as legal counsel throughout the Asia/Pacific region, traveling to numerous countries and negotiating with government officials, aid organizations and local citizens to further advance Habitat programs across Southeast Asia.
After serving beyond his initial term with Habitat, he returned to Decatur where he joined Cook’s Pest Control, Inc. as its Vice President and General Counsel. Since his return in 2001, Arthur also has become part-owner of several local businesses, primarily involved in real estate development and management. Arthur has also re-engaged as an active community leader and served as president of the Calhoun College Foundation, Community Foundation of Decatur and the Decatur Rotary Club. He helped start the Community Free Clinic and has served on several other boards, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Mental Health Center and the Hartselle Development Board. He is the former President of the National Alumni Association for Wake Forest University. A long-time adult Sunday school teacher and men’s Bible study member, Arthur and his family are members of First Bible Church in Decatur.
Since his election in 2006, Arthur has become involved with water issues affecting the Tennessee Valley. Recognizing the importance of water in the region, he chairs the Joint Legislative Water Resources Committee and serves on the State Water Commission. He is also a trustee for the Southern Growth Policies Board and Athens State University. After sponsoring and passing legislation to reduce the dropout rate in Alabama, Arthur serves as chairman of the Select Commission on High School Dropouts.
Arthur now chairs the almost $12 Billion Senate Finance and Taxation Committee for state government. He also chairs the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, Elections Commission, Wrongful Incarceration Committee and other State boards. Arthur sponsored legislation which brought transparency and accountability to state election laws through internet filing for candidates and other measures. His law to put the state check-book and contracts online provided increased fiscal transparency to Alabama. He continues to champion open and transparent government.
For his efforts, he has received numerous state-wide awards from education, business, agriculture and state agencies and volunteer associations. He enjoys reading, jogging and travel; having visited or lived in over 60 countries.
Arthur and his wife of over ten years, the former Amy Bethshares of Decatur, have one son named Jack and a daughter, Anna, born in 2011. Amy serves on various local boards along with being involved with several women’s Bible study groups.