Community champions: Chris Orr
Stepping up when signs go down
By Clif Knight
Photo by Rachel Howard
Chris Orr is the man about town when a stop sign goes down within Hartselle’s city limits.
“My job is all about public safety,” explained traffic technician Orr, a 21-year public works employee. “When I get a call from the police department about a stop sign being down, I’m on my way to fix it, no matter the day or time.” The same urgency applies to putting up barriers and warning cones on flooded roads and streets.
His responsibilities include the installation of new street signs and the replacement of those whose names are faded and hard to read, as well as those that have been stolen or defaced with pictures or paint marks.
Orr also works on “other jobs as required.”
“Any time I’m not working with signs,” Orr said, “you’ll find me working with public works crews on other projects. It might be we’re patching po holes in streets one time and putting out flags in the downtown area another time.”
Orr credits his career as a city employee with being in the right place at the right time.
“I was out of work and hunting a job in September 1988,” he recalled. “I stopped at public works and asked Hershel Clemons if the city was hiring. He directed me to go to city hall and pick up an application. When they hired me, I knew the grace of God led me there.”
At the time, “I didn’t know a thing about painting signs,” he added. “I was fortunate Melvin Hunter was there and taught me how to do the job.”
Being a native of Hartselle helped a lot, Orr pointed out. “I knew my way around town. I don’t think there’s a street I wasn’t familiar with.”
Orr said an ice storm in December 1998 taught him public workers have to be prepared to work in any kind of weather. “The entire city was out of power for several days,” he recalled. “The crew I was with worked all night and most of the next day running chain saws to clear tree limbs from power lines and streets. When we finally got a break, I was questioning what I had gotten myself into.”
Orr said one of the best parts of his job are his fellow public works employees. “I work with a good bunch of people,” he said. “I consider the friendship I share with them to be the most important part of my career with the city.”
Orr, like several of his co-workers, enjoys deer hunting as a hobby. He belongs to a hunting club with a brother-in-law and several nephews, and they hunt in the Lacon area. “I hunt from October to February and usually kill three deer with bow and gun,” he said. “I have them processed and share the meat with senior citizens and others who are unable to hunt.”
Orr and his wife Angie, an employee of OBGYN Associates in Decatur, have been married for 34 years. Their daughter, Emily, died in an automobile accident at the age of 16.
“She was a daddy’s girl,” Orr said. “Losing her was a devastating loss. You don’t get over it, even though we’ve gotten used to not having her with us.”
The Orrs are active members of First Methodist Church in Hartselle. They credit their faith in God and the support of friends with getting them through their personal tragedy.
Orr is retired from the Alabama Army National Guard with 22 years of service. He served with companies in Hartselle and Double Springs and retired with the rank of sergeant.
The Orrs are looking forward to retiring at the same time. They plan to spend a couple of years traveling around the country in a motorhome.