Marion Alice Orr
Marion Alice Orr (née Powell). Pioneer pilot. (b. Jun 25, 1916 [?], Toronto, ON; d. April 4, 1995, Peterborough, ON). Marion Orr's birth date has been given variously as 1916, 1918 and 1920. She obfuscated sometimes on documents related to flying for fear that she would be grounded by her age.
Marion Alice Orr (née Powell). Pioneer pilot. (b. Jun 25, 1916 [?], Toronto, ON; d. April 4, 1995, Peterborough, ON). Marion Orr's birth date has been given variously as 1916, 1918 and 1920. She obfuscated sometimes on documents related to flying for fear that she would be grounded by her age. Her childhood passion for airplanes and flying lasted her whole life.
Orr was the youngest of four girls. Her father died when she was two and her mother struggled to support the family. Orr and her sister Marge left home together as adolescents. Orr regularly walked six miles to watch the aircraft at Barker Field. Inspired by Amelia Earhart to succeed in the male bastion of aviation, she scraped and saved to pay for flying lessons. At Fliers Limited she met Violet Milstead, another Canadian aviator, with whom Orr flew for many years.
Orr attained her private pilot's licence on January 5, 1940, in a rather exciting test flight. During her test, her engine quit; standard procedures indicated maintaining a level course until the nearest available flat patch presented itself as a landing strip. Orr, determined not to abort her test unless absolutely necessary, turned back to the airstrip and made a dead-stick landing within a few feet of the target.
Orr worked as an aircraft inspector at De Havilland Aircraft of Canada and was the second woman in Canada to qualify as an air traffic control assistant. She achieved a commercial licence in 1942. During this time she met Deke Orr, a flying instructor who became her husband. The marriage was short-lived.
WWII had begun and Deke joined the Air Force. Private and small commercial aviation was restricted by the war, but Marion managed to get hired as a controller in the tower at the Goderich RCAF base. She and her friend Violet Milstead were accepted as pilots by the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), which was established by the British Overseas Airways Corporation to ferry aircraft from factories to bases. They left for England in the summer of 1942. Orr flew her first ATA flight on June 2, 1943.
Toward the end of the war Deke entered her life again and they reconciled. She was honourably discharged from the ATA in 1944 with the rank of Second Officer and with 700 flying hours logged. Again the marriage failed and Orr set out on her own, going back to Barker Field and instructing for Aero Activities.
Orr got the chance to buy Aero in 1949; she scraped and scrounged to keep her business going, taking a mechanics course so that she could do her own aircraft maintenance. She was forced to close as Toronto expanded northward. She bought land farther north at Maple, where she developed her own airfield and flying school. The citizens of Maple initiated a petition, which resulted in a bylaw to prevent the airport from opening. Not one to back down from a challenge, and deciding to get some high-level support, Orr borrowed a car, drove to Ottawa and made her way to Prime Minister Louis Louis St-Laurent's office. She talked her way in to see him and managed to have the bylaw rescinded.
After all she had achieved, Orr wearied of her endeavours and decided to withdraw. She sold the Maple operation and joined her sister in Florida. She occasionally visited the local airport at Opalaka. In 1961 she found a new challenge after talking to a helicopter pilot. She quickly learned how to fly helicopters and in a remarkably short time had mastered the aircraft well enough to earn an instructor's licence. One day during a lesson, with a student at the controls, the engine failed; the machine crashed. Orr suffered a broken back.
After her recovery she got a job as a bookkeeper at the Opalaka airport. The work didn't suit her and she returned to Canada, to Buttonville, Ontario, and resumed flying instruction. Eventually the years caught up with her; her memory began to deteriorate and she often seemed distracted. Despite her intention to keep flying till the age of 90, the time came when her pilot's licence was not put up for renewal. Orr had logged 21 000 hours of flying time, nearly 17 000 of them while instructing. In 1982 she was inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame. In 1993 she was inducted as a Member of the Order of Canada.
On April 4, 1995 she was driving to Peterborough and, possibly in a confused state of mind, was killed in a vehicle accident when she failed to stop at an intersection.