Friends and colleagues have responded to the death of the journalist and author Deborah Orr with a flood of tributes, describing the longtime Guardian columnist as fearless, hilarious, and “a lioness in a world full of mogs”.
Orr, who died from cancer at the age of 57, had a long and varied journalistic career at the Guardian, the Independent, and the i newspaper, among others. Her memoir about her upbringing in Scotland, Motherwell: a Girlhood, is due to be published next year.
After the news of her death emerged, Jenny Lord, Orr’s publisher at W&N, said in a statement: “To say we are devastated by the loss of this most remarkable of women – an intellectual force, a writer whose life and career has most certainly been cut short far too soon – is the wildest understatement.
“Deborah was a writer we had all admired long before we became her publisher. With her unrivalled ability to stare at something (sometimes someone) right in the eye, she was an inspiration as well as an exceptional writer.”
Lord said her editorial input on Orr’s forthcoming memoir centred largely around “asking her for more; and more and more” and said it became clear that the work should be the first book of many.
“Her voice, so sharp, deliciously spiky, crystalline and true. Her dialogue, so precise yet so easy,” said Lord. “If she was born to write this incredible memoir, this reckoning that it turned out was bubbling away under the surface for so long, she was surely also born to write fiction. It is grossly unfair for all of us that those future books will have to remain unwritten.”
Suzanne Moore, Orr’s close friend and a Guardian columnist, responded to expressions of sympathy about her death on Twitter by writing: “Thank you for the many kind messages and thoughts about my brilliant friend Deborah Orr. Never could get that woman off the dance floor … so many tales to tell. One day. Gather close, raise a glass and live and love as fiercely as she did. I loved her.”
The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, described her as “a brilliant, clever, funny journalist whose work was an important part of the Guardian for many years”.
“The Guardian Weekend magazine she edited in the 1990s was the home of brilliant writing and many of Britain’s best writers loved working for her,” she said.
“As a columnist Deborah was knowledgable, insightful and uncompromising. She was greatly respected by many people, who will mourn her death, especially at such a young age.”
Hadley Freeman, a Guardian columnist and feature writer, said that Orr was a “fearless and thoughtful, cutting and compassionate” writer. “As a friend, she was loyal, loving, fun, hilarious and kind,” she said.
“The saddest news. Formidable, magnificent and funny as hell,” tweeted the journalist and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup. “She was a lioness in a world full of mogs.”
Orr’s literary agent Clare Conville described her as a brilliantly acute journalist and a groundbreaking magazine editor. “When I first suggested she write a book some 12 years ago she roared with laughter and replied, ‘I have nothing to say.’ Unusually for Deborah she proved herself wrong,” she said.
“Her memoir when it finally came was astonishing. Painful and revealing in parts, joyful in others. A tour de force of the form itself. Even when mortally ill we discussed her next book, a novel. ‘It’s writing itself in my head.’”
Deborah Orr obituary
Conville added: “Her loss to her children Ivan and Luther, her stepchildren Alexis and Madeleine and her many friends who adored her is incalculable.”
Simon Kelner, her editor at the Independent, remembered that Orr had once stunned the rightwing columnist Bruce Anderson by throwing a glass of red wine over him in retaliation after he proffered “some pretty extreme views” at a dinner.
“We were all either outraged or embarrassed, but only Debs had the courage of her convictions,” he wrote.
And he said: “Of the many adjectives that will be used about her, the one that most accurately describes her is fearless.”