Yesterday Meg and I worked on Orri’s obituary, knowing he had only a few hours left. Here is what Meg wrote:
Mr. Putnam, of Lake Wylie, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer, diagnosed just eight weeks ago. A native of Charlotte, he was born on Jan. 9, 1946, the son of Harry and Nona Putnam. He leaves his wife, Dianne Waldron Putnam, a sister, Myra, his in-laws, Don and Meg Kimmel, as well as many nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, and a wide family of lifelong and newfound friends.
A graduate of the University of Georgia, Orri owned and managed the Plaza School of Beauty Culture following his mother’s death in 1981. He was successful in business, but his true occupation was friendship, one he tended with talent and steady care. Intensely proud of his heritage, he loved to entertain with homemade Lebanese treats. His interests were many—old cars and boats, model trains, history, architecture, and travel. He could tell tales, and did, and was likely to show up on your doorstep at any time, usually bearing a gift. A unusually generous man, he offered help in ways that meant the most, supporting educational goals and medical needs. He volunteered at an adoption center. Orri brought fun, life, and laughter into any gathering. His friend Haven Kimmel captures his particular grace and compassion in “Kaline Klattermaster’s Tree House,” a children’s book that features a hero named Osiris Putnaminski. He took care of business, but his legacy is one of joy, delight, and love. Orri, we are missing you from here.
I added: Orri had one of the most unique and pleasurable gifts one can find in a friend: he was an elegant conversationalist, and one could never discern, from how a story began, how on earth it might end. A story of his might start with how he acquired a certain rare car, and end up in a tiny saloon in a desert and a story he was told by the toothless barkeep.
Orri had refined tastes in all areas of life: at the annual Kimmel/Boykin beach trip, he loved nothing more than to listen to live music played by his various family members. He dressed impeccably, and could always choose the best entrée on a menu, as well as the best wine. Merely by the life he lived, Orri taught invaluable lessons. He taught that we choose our family, and then we love them as fiercely as possible. He had what seemed an infinite number of friends, because he was a friend, rather than a man who expected friendship to come to him. Most of all, Orri Putnam was an easy man: he had an easy laugh, he was easy to love, he didn’t hold tight to a dollar. His favorite saying was, “My heart soars like an eagle to see you again.” Whatever blue sky holds his spirit now, we were all blessed to have known him as a brother, an uncle, a dear friend, the heart of our gathered tribe.
Here are a few of my favorite Christmas photos from a few years back. Orri is carrying the full-grown Jeff Boykin on his back without breaking a sweat:
And I love these group photos because so many of us are gone now. For instance, in the first photograph you’ll notice Obadiah standing at the edge of the photo:
. . . and in this photograph he is missing altogether, because he has fallen off into the bushes. Please note the massive jocularity at poor O’s expense.
In that photograph are Meg’s dear, dear parents, Dick and Peggy, and since there is only room for one hagiography in each blog post, I will suffice it to say that they were beautiful, fine people who gave the world four of the best children imaginable. They were old-fashioned and gracious, wonderful wits, and they adored one another all the days of their marriage. We miss them terribly, as well.
Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” I asked you to remember my mother in any small way to offset the unbearable pain she has suffered for two years, and this is the letter I received from her yesterday:
I have received some of the dearest, most touching messages from your blog babies. I am moved to tears by their kindness. Flowers were delivered from Caryl, Jack, Charlie Hayes, and they are beautiful. Right now they grace the room divider and brighten up the space with joy. It was such a sweet thing to do, especially since I love flowers so much.
I received a box of the most amazing sweets from Katharine McKinney of Evansville, and I think they are probably illegal they are so delicious. Thank god I’m not diabetic!! If I were I would still have to taste such scrumptious treats. Wasn’t that the dearest thing for Katharine to do?
I got a lovely card from Polly Kahl in Pennsylvania, and one from Liz Holmes in Virginia. Can you imagine hearing from strangers in such different places who send thoughts and prayers because they know you through your blog.
Sarah from PA sent a letter and a beautiful poem dedicated to her mother that touched me deeply. Clearly she is also a talented writer.
Brenda Diller from Prescott Valley AZ sent a gorgeous card and a Navajo Healing Prayer that I plan to recite often.
Gloria Geisendorfer from Washington state had a prayer for healing done by the priests of Sacred Heart at a Lakota Indian school. Beautiful. Gloria isn’t one of your blog babies, but her daughter is–how touching is that! Gloria isn’t even Catholic, which made the prayer even more meaningful.
Linda Carter from Nashville TN sent a beautiful card and note, and her handwriting is so much like yours it made my heart stop for a second. It was a moving note.
Finally I got a card from John MacMullen at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
Haven, these are the dearest, most precious people in the world, and clearly they are not only fans of yours, but also friends of the heart. I can’t tell you how much the cards, letters, flowers and sweets have meant to me. I don’t feel like a stranger to these dear friends, your blog babies.
I love you, little girl, and I appreciate the kindness of your friends to your mother who long since ceased being brave. I would prefer to be more valiant in the face of this ongoing pain, which resists all treatments, pills, potions, powders, lotions, gels, salves and creams.
Here is Delonda at her most queenly, with one of my oldest friends Kent Shuff and me. And she has never been more right: you are friends of my heart – you have the same gift Orri had, of choosing whom to love and loving with all your goodwill. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: thank you, thank you, thank you.