Elliston’s Orrick was actress, doctor and civic presence
Elliston native Martha Orrick left her influence on communities as diverse as Broadway and the New River Valley during her life. She passed away last week after fighting cancer for about four years.
Orrick, 80, began her acting career when she was 15 in high school plays and as an apprentice at Barter Theatre in Abingdon.
Orrick’s husband, James Malcolm, said he feels working for the Barter was one of the more special facets of Orrick’s acting, though he noted he met her after she had finished her professional acting career.
“They went on tour to towns in Virginia that were very rural places that had never seen theater before,” he said.
Orrick studied drama at a high school for the arts in New York City; Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass.; and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.
“She was always encouraged by our parents, who were artists,” said Orrick’s younger sister Sarah Orrick.
Orrick’s mother, Mildred Orrick, was a fashion designer; her father, Jesse Orrick, was an architect.
Orrick was featured in two Broadway plays — “Waltz of the Toreadors” in 1958 and “Farewell, Farewell Eugene” in 1960 — and in an off-Broadway play, “Camille,” in 1956.
In the mid-1960s, Orrick left theater to work at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church on W. 46th St. in Manhattan. The church specially ministered to actors and also doubled as a theater venue known as American Place Theater.
Malcolm said her work at St. Clement’s was unique since it combined church and theater.
“When the set was on stage, they had services on Sunday on the set with a crystal cross that lowered from the ceiling,” he said. “It was partially a way of mixing the sacred and the secular.”
In the 1970s, Orrick re-booted her career and returned to school at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and later Michigan State University, where she received a doctorate in clinical psychology. While studying at the University of Massachusetts, Orrick met Malcolm, her husband of 41 years, who was then a drama professor at Boston University.
Malcolm, who had been an actor before becoming a professor, said a mutual friend wrote him a letter just after he moved to Boston and told him he should meet Orrick. The two married in 1973.
They lived in Holland, Mich., where Malcolm was the dean for performing and fine arts at Hope College. They later moved to Colorado Springs, Co., where Malcolm was the chair of the theater department at Colorado University for 25 years. Orrick ran her own psychology practice and did consulting work for groups like Colorado Springs’s community corrections program.
Although Orrick lived in New York City during her childhood, she spent every summer in Elliston. Her great-grandfather, Tom Barger of Shawsville, owned land around the area, including the Walnut Grove estate in Shawsville and the house Orrick was born in in Elliston. The house was passed down through the generations. Orrick’s parents, Mildred and Jesse, retired there in the 1970s.
Eventually, Martha Orrick and Malcolm retired in the same house in 2002 while retaining a vacation home in Palm Springs, Calif. Orrick became involved with supporting the Mountain Valley Charitable Foundation in eastern Montgomery County and other area groups during her retirement.
“We always came here and she loved it here,” Malcolm said. “She became very involved in the area when we retired here.”
Malcolm said Orrick had lived a fulfilled life with a somewhat unusual career path. But, he said, her various jobs left her with “wonderful, long stories she could tell.”
Orrick is survived by Malcolm, her sister Sarah, her brother Nicholas, her nephews Elliot and David and her niece Jennifer. There will be no public service for Orrick.
To reach the Orrick family, email Sarah Orrick at Sarah.Orrick@gmail.com.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1662
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