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Hendersonville High School stage dedicated to the late Tom Orr

Henderson County Public Schools Chief Administrative Officer, Carl Taylor, and Sandee Morgan Carpenter, a former Hendersonville High School student, unveil one of two plaques honoring the late Tom Orr. Henderson County Public Schools Chief Administrative Officer, Carl Taylor, and Sandee Morgan Carpenter, a former Hendersonville High School student, unveil one of two plaques honoring the late Tom Orr.

Two new plaques honoring the late theater and English teacher Tom Orr will now greet performers when they take the stage in Hendersonville High School’s auditorium.

“This stage represents a core heartbeat. You recognize a stage says, ‘See me.’ This is where the magic happens,” Henderson County Public Schools Superintendent John Bryant told about 100 people gathered Saturday to dedicate the stage in Orr’s memory.
A plaque on one side of the stage shows a profile of Orr looking toward the stage and honors his graduation from Hendersonville High in 1957 and his years teaching at the school from 1962 to 1993. A plaque on the other side recognizes the stage as the Thomas E. Orr Stage.
“Some have said they can still see Mr. Orr in the aisles waving his arms. Many recognize that Mr. Orr I got to know. In so many ways, he was one of those individuals that made this stage a home,” Bryant said.
He said the two plaques will comfort performers who will step up to the stage with Orr “taking your hand.” They will perform with him looking on, he said.
The two plaques dedicated Saturday are temporary. Bronze plaques will be fabricated over the summer and installed in the fall of 2022, according to information from the school system.
School board and school system officials, family members, friends and former students gathered in the auditorium for the dedication.
Several speakers recalled plays they performed under Orr’s direction and his impact on their lives.
Lynn Bush read a statement from former student Leigh Ann Bowling, who could not attend the ceremony.
Bowling described Orr as a friend to her family and wrote that she performed in plays including Grease as a Hendersonville High student.
Orr helped her with her stage fright and encouraged her to stay positive, she wrote.
“All of us were on Tom’s stage when we were in his presence,” Bowling wrote.
Sandee Morgan Carpenter said she too was a student of Orr’s in the 1960s and participated in his productions at the school and at Hendersonville’s First Baptist Church, where Orr staged Handel’s Messiah.
As an adult years later, she also helped with a play he wrote about the history of Henderson County.
Carpenter said she remembers feeling so happy when Orr complimented her about her work on the history play.
“Tom said, ‘Now, that’s acting,’” Carpenter said.
Orr’s guidance helped students go on to careers in theater, while some became teachers, preachers and lawyers, Carpenter said.
Former student Steve Carlisle credited Orr with his career choices. Carlisle performed in the Diary of Anne Frank under Orr’s direction in the 1960s. He held up a copy of that script as he spoke at the dedication Saturday.
“It guided me into my chosen profession as an actor, as a professor of theater,” Carlisle said.
Naming the stage in Orr’s memory was appropriate, he said.
“May this space always draw those as dedicated as he,” Carlisle said.
Carlisle is a retired Western Carolina University professor and has appeared in off-Broadway stage productions, television soap operas and dramatic series and in several films.
In addition to graduating from Hendersonville High School as valedictorian in 1957, Orr earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chapel Hill and a master’s degree from Western Carolina University.
He won several teaching awards during his years at Hendersonville High School and served as president and director at several theater associations in the state.
Orr was a trustee of Flat Rock Playhouse, chairman of the Board of Public Education, a trustee at Blue Ridge Community College and a Hendersonville High School Hall of Fame Inductee, among other accomplishments.
Bryant asked the people who attended Saturday’s dedication to consider Orr’s accomplishments and to think about their favorite memories of him.
As he closed the dedication, Bryant recalled one of his favorite memories of Orr when Orr spoke during his last visit to the school.
“He said, ‘My underwear will always be bearcat red,’” Bryant said to laughter from the crowd.
Orr passed away in 2021 at Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville.