Teri Orr: Remembering a carefully woven friendship
When I say I lost a friend this week you could read that a couple of ways. … Maybe someone who was a friend isn’t anymore. … Friendships dissolve or outlive their lifespan. Maybe a friend passed away — and we call that “lost” because they are no longer here. So we have lost their laughter and warmth and goofy face and bad jokes. And that is — in part — what happened when I learned my friend John had died — but something else happened. I lost the ability to find him — and share a story and sometimes a tear and certainly good food.
I met John more than 25 years ago. He was managing the actor, Robert Urich, from here in Park City. And he was helping, too, his lifelong friend, actor Tim Daley. He had an office in upper Deer Valley Plaza. My board chair then — Ann Macquoid — had hired me to both raise money and be a project manager with the school district — the building of the new joint-use performing arts center and figure out what to put in it that first year. Since we had no building, we had no offices and since the Urichs were Ann’s clients and John had a big office and, well, you can see where this lands. I ended up sharing a space for about a year with John.
He came from the East Coast. He was married to his high school sweetheart — a powerfully insightful human. They had two adorable daughters. I was a single mom with two post-college-age kids living in Salt Lake. Before long, my daughter would end up working with John to help him do his job here — so he could deal with Hollywood — from his perch in Deer Valley.
It was the best of times.
John lived large. In the days when there were no sushi places in Park City he would send his assistant — my daughter — to Salt Lake City to bring some back … for lunch. He would fly in seafood from the East Coast for Christmas Eve and invite my tiny family to join his. He drove the shiny car and skied all the runs. And he found my entire small life … a curiosity.
I remember telling him one day I wouldn’t be in for the next two weeks because I was going on my annual trip to the Navajo reservation with a friend of mine — who helped the elders down there prepare for winter. She took them food and modest supplies and yarns for the grandmothers to weave rugs. We would stay in seedy motels with no restaurants for miles. Or in hogans on the elders’ land. We would drive for hours on dusty red washboard dirt roads and through arroyos and deliver things like tin foil that made us rock stars on The Rez. It was the most spiritual time. There were maybe five or six cars that would go in those early days. John was fascinated by the whole idea and I told him he should come along some time. And so he and his wife Liz did … for years after that.
The elders LOVED John and John loved them. He would buy the ugliest jewelry and the ugliest rugs when no one else would. He made certain the elders had big meals when we visited and when they would start coming to Park City and selling their rugs as part of the Adopt A Native Elder rug show that my friend, Linda Myers, had organized — he would invite them all to his home and cook for them.
When we were finally ready to open what would be christened the George S. and Dolores Eccles Center — we need an act. We had dancers from Ballet West and singers from the Utah Opera Company and the Park City High school jazz band but we didn’t have AN Act. Robert Urich had agreed to emcee and John asked someone Robert had worked with — who finally said OK — at the last minute. The name was so big and so grand we were tickled to announce it. And the town went wild!
Bill Cosby would christen Our Stage.
Yes — it was a long, long time ago.
I moved out of the Deer Valley office then into a space of our own — in what is now the box office. Robert Urich was diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and passed away in 2002. John arranged not too long after that to have a star placed for Urich on the Hollywood Walk of Fame sidewalk. He and Liz had had another child in 2001 — a little redhead who was the apple of John’s eye. And up until about a week ago, you would see him with Miss Lottie in Starbucks or at the park.
Like you do with some friends — we lost touch. I stopped going to The Rez because I could no longer take such chunks of time away. John left doing work for Hollywood folks. My kids had kids — his older girls went to college and started careers and fell in love and married. His wife worked in health care and made certain families who needed help navigating the system for children with special needs had an advocate.
I would see him sometimes at the market or the car wash or the bank. There would be hugs and “how’s the family” and we would promise to catch up … soon. And I thought I would have time to make good on that promise. John was a keeper of secrets and a teller of tales. I will miss his sly smile and his stories and his grand way of living life fully with fierce love for his family. And this year when the rug show and the elders come to town, we will burn sage and remember our sweet friend who loved finding ways to make us all laugh on so many days including Sundays — not always in this Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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After a pipe burst in her home, followed by her furnace going out, columnist Teri Orr is grateful to be safe, warm and dry. And amid the global pandemic, she understands she is one of the lucky ones.