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Joseph ‘Joe’ Newton Orr

Joseph ‘Joe’ Newton Orr

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December 18, 2013
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Joseph “Joe” Newton Orr passed away on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. He was born to James N. and Verna Louise Butler Orr in San Francisco, Calif., on Oct. 25, 1954.

In 1964 Joe and his mother moved to Floresville, Texas. Joe attended Floresville High School where he played the trumpet in the Floresville Tiger marching band. After graduation Joe attended college at Sul Ross University in Alpine, obtaining his degree in Spanish with a minor in biology. He later attended Texas A&M University and the University of Texas for graduate studies in Spanish, astronomy, and Mayan history/archaeology. Joe fell in love with the Big Bend area while a student at Sul Ross. This sparked the beginning of a river guide career, which extended throughout the United States and Mexico. Joe was at peace on the river. He loved the night sky. As a child, Joe enjoyed telescopes, searching the night skies of Floresville. He was a voracious reader of literature involving astronomy, bird watching, environmental issues, Mayan history, and culture.

In recent years, Joe served as a volunteer at the Mitchell Lake wildlife preserve in San Antonio. Following his mother’s death in 1993, Joe took over management of his portion of the Butler Ranch in Karnes County. He converted the land from agricultural to wildlife management, hoping to return it to its original natural vegetation and wildlife condition. That effort continues today, even with the oil and gas activity on and around the Butler Ranch. Joe wanted to restore the land in perpetuity. During his last years, Joe enjoyed travel and philanthropy. He made contributions to the McDonald Observatory, the Department of Astronomy at the University of Texas, the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., the Grand Canyon Association in Arizona, the Witte Museum in San Antonio, the Mesoamerica Center at the University of Texas, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. As recently as September, Joe traveled to the Lowell Observatory and the surrounding area to lend his support. During the past month, Joe was voted a member of the Board of Visitors for the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas. Joe was also at home in the Grand Canyon, enjoying many trips with friends he came to know and love along the way. Joe considered the Earth and the universe around it his life’s study. He relished the endless mystery of the universe. He maintained an insatiable curiosity until his last days. He never stopped learning.

He was preceded in death by his parents; and his sister, Kathleen Ann Carnes Bassett.

Joe is survived by his niece, Shena Ann Bassett of San Antonio; his nephew, Samuel Earl Bassett of Austin; his great-nephew and great- niece, Daniel Bassett and Kathleen Bassett, both of Austin; and many Butler cousins throughout Texas and beyond.

Visitation will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 18, from 6-8 p.m. in the Vinyard Funeral Home in Floresville.

A celebration of Joe’s life will be held on Thursday at 10 a.m. in the funeral home.

Interment will be held in the Floresville City Cemetery in Floresville, followed by a luncheon in the Floresville United Methodist Church in Floresville.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Grand Canyon Association in Arizona; Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff; the McDonald Observatory (University of Texas); the Nature Conservancy; or any other charity promoting astronomy, land preservation, environmental issues, archaeology, or cancer research.

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