NewsPub Notes

Ort’s Many Friends Say Goodbye

William Orten Carlton=Ort was like your favorite uncle, who knows everything and is glad to share in great detail whatever of his knowledge interests you, but never fails to ask how you are doing and listens to what’s on your mind and gives you a hug. And Ort stored you and your concerns away in the great bubbling cauldron of his mind so that the next time you met, he wanted to know specifically how you’re doing—whether you got your love life straightened out, whether you got your air conditioner fixed.

Ort lived his life in our public spaces, so we have run into him frequently, and in spite of all the facts crammed into his brain from his deep-dive researches and his wide-ranging rambles, he knew us, too; he included us, he pulled up a seat for us. He loved sharing his knowledge, and he loved hearing ours. He loved us, and that’s why so many of us love Ort. 

And that’s why Ort’s illness, and now his death, have so grievously affected our community. For several generations of us, he has always been there. We might go months or years without seeing him, but when we did, we took up right where we left off. Ort has been a constant in our lives, and we will miss him constantly.

Here’s how Melissa Link, one of Ort’s old friends, so beautifully put into words this past Friday what so many of us are feeling:

“The more time we do on this exquisite, complicated ball of rock & goo, the more regularly we must face the unhappy task of saying goodbye to those who had some large or small part in making us who we are. Today, I visited with the one and only Ort at St. Mary’s Hospice as he prepares to shuffle off this mortal coil.

“A growing line of loved ones and well wishers queued up in the lobby to pay their respects to an icon of Athens, an inimitable main character who has been a central wheel in the magnificent multi-tendriled machine that is Athens’ music, arts, food, beer and literary scene. As fate would have it, my visit coincided with former Flagpole editor turned NYT reporter Richard Faussett. We were able to join forces in recounting times in the ’90s hammering away in that little office on Foundry Street, when I was a fledgling arts writer and Ort frequently held court in between literary excursions that inspired published tales of livermush, microbrews, long-forgotten blues musicians and everything in between.

“Ort’s rabid appreciation for seemingly the most mundane aspects of Southern culture is an art in and of itself, and his encyclopedic ability to recount multifarious minutiae from memory is nothing short of genius. Only in Athens could a creature like Ort thrive. In a town that celebrates eccentricity, Ort has long reigned as King of the Beautiful Weirdos—a beloved conflagration of jester and sage who simultaneously epitomizes the peculiarity of our community while offering a window into the idiosyncrasies of the world beyond, reminding us that lovely oddity abounds even outside the little bubble of our borders.

“It’s hard to imagine Athens without Ort—sitting sentry at the Manhattan bar, shuffling around the stacks in local libraries, pawing through thrift stores for untold treasures, plodding around downtown clutching his infamous clipboard and tattered notebooks and always, always sharing stories with anyone who stopped to lend an ear.

“The ravages of age and a life well-lived have certainly taken their toll on his body in recent years, but Ort has never lost his sunny sense of humor nor his childlike sense of wonder. Even bedridden and struggling to speak, he is eager to share words of wisdom. As Richard and I showered him with appreciation, he relayed, ‘Don’t imitate me; learn from me’—wise words indeed from a truly one-of-a-kind human who never, ever stopped absorbing knowledge and was always ever so eager to share it.

“Please send all your peace and strength out to Ort and all who love him as he faces his final ramble into the great beyond. As hard as it is, few are so lucky to know when it’s their time to go, nor have the opportunity to know they truly touched so many lives. Ort’s words and memory will forever be cemented into the kaleidoscopic mosaic that is Athens, and those of us who have crossed his path along the way carry on just a little brighter and a good bit wiser for having known him.”