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T. Decker Orr, 89, devoted to preserving nature on LI

T. Decker Orr was so devoted to nature that the house he raised his family in eventually was transformed into the museum at the popular 200-acre South Shore Nature Center in East Islip.

Orr, a resident of Quogue who died on Saturday at 89, donated most of the 30 acres surrounding the house and led the effort to cobble together a coalition of nature groups, local governments and private landowners to create the 200-acre reserve. The house, which he sold to the Town of Islip, became the headquarters for the Nature Center.

"We were always brought up to respect nature, never hurting a bird, never hurting a rabbit," said Susan Rowe, one of Orr's daughters.

Orr was a former chairman of the Long Island chapter of the Nature Conservancy, and a former mayor of the Village of Quogue. He was also a past commodore of the Shinnecock Yacht Club, where he raced Sunfish and Sailfish boats. He was married for 62 years to his wife, Betty, who turned 90 the day after he died.

Orr's lifelong devotion to nature was evident as he raised his two daughters, Rowe, of Coquille, Ore., and Lisa Orr of Burkittsville, Md., Rowe said. She recalled her father taking the girls flounder fishing in the Great South Bay, and ice skating on a pond on their property.

To create the nature reserve, he got Suffolk County, the Town of Islip, The Nature Conservancy and several private land owners to provide or purchase land, she said. Today, the reserve boasts five different habitats, including forest and beach. Around the freshwater pond and marsh alone, visitors can see frogs, painted and snapping turtles, muskrats, tree swallows, kingfishers, and green herons.

Today, the former Orr house serves as a nature center museum on the first floor and a residence for a naturalist on the second. There is a butterfly garden and, behind Plexiglas in the living room, a beehive where bees go in and make honey, Rowe said.

Orr was born in Amityville, went to elementary school in Bay Shore, and attended a private boarding school, St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., for high school. He graduated from Harvard University in 1943, and then went into the army, serving as a field artillery officer in the Pacific until 1947 and coming home a captain.

He spent 10 years in marketing and engineering with the Shell Oil Company in New York City and Long Island. He then switched to corporate finance, serving as a partner with G.L. Ohrstrom & Co. for seven years, and as a partner in C.J. Lawrence & Co. and its succeeding companies until 1976.

A funeral service is planned for Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Church of the Atonement in Quogue. In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made to the Long Island chapter of The Nature Conservancy, 250 Lawrence Hill Rd., Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. 11724.

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