A memorial service will be held Saturday in Athens, Georgia for William Orten Carlton, who was born, raised, and lived his entire life in that college town. In many ways, this man — known to most people simply as “Ort” — was the glue that held Athens together.  Salvation South editor Chuck Reece has this remembrance. 



Chuck Reece - Salvation South Editor: Tomorrow, I will attend a memorial service for an old friend of mine from college. I expect there will be more than a thousand people there — probably the biggest funeral I’ve ever been to.

Was he famous? No.

Well, yes, he was famous, but only in his hometown of Athens, Georgia.

His name was William Orten Carlton, but everybody who knew him called him simply “Ort.”

William “Ort” Carlton: Hi, folks!

Chuck Reece - Salvation South Editor: Ort was a magical guy. He was born in Athens in 1949. He was 30 years old when I arrived at the University of Georgia in 1979. I don’t remember precisely when or where I first met him. What I’ll always remember most about Ort is that he was never NOT around.

MUSIC: Pylon – “Crazy”

Chuck Reece - Salvation South Editor: I was lucky enough to be in Athens through a truly magical era there — when the ridiculously creative and innovative young musicians of our college town made Athens music famous around the whole world. There was a band called Pylon, there was a band called the B-52’s, there was a band called R.E.M.

And somehow, it seemed that it was Ort’s job to introduce every youngster who showed up for college in Athens to what was going on in the town.

When he died last week, thousands of people who’d spent time living in Athens crowded social media with their remembrances of Ort. They talked about how he’d driven them around town on the first day they met him, just because he was proud of the place and wanted to show it off. They talked about Ort’s photographic memory, how he knew every single ZIP code in Georgia and all the little towns and neighborhoods they were attached to. They remembered mentioning to Ort a song they’d grown up loving and how he would reply with the year that record was released, what label it was on, how high it climbed on the charts … heck, sometimes he even knew the catalog number.But mostly, they talked about Ort’s heart. How he hugged them, how he wrote them letters and postcards, how enthusiastically he loved folks.

My old friend Nelson Ross and I wrote a story last week for Salvation South, the online magazine I edit, about our memories of Ort, and one of the lines Nelson contributed was this:

“Ort was in the Pantheon of friend makers. He spread his goodwill onto everyone he met like it was peanut butter. He was the love man.”

After our story was published, another friend of mine who grew up in Paris, France, and who never knew Ort at all, read the story and wrote, “Every town and village should have an Ort.”

That was Ort’s magic. William Orten Carlton was, in many ways, Athens itself. He embodied the magic that happens in college towns when young people arrive and feel freedom they’ve never before felt. He embodied the love that comes to life between people at that special time of life. He somehow embodied youth — right up until the day he died at age 73. 

You can read more about Ort at SalvationSouth.com.

Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. You can also find them here at GPB.org/Salvation-South and please download and subscribe on your favorite podcast platforms as well.