Long-time Brownwood resident Bernard Martin Orloff passed away peacefully at home Sunday afternoon, March 16, 2014. Bernard was 99, and even as he approached his 100th birthday, he exuded the warmth and charm familiar to all who knew him.
He lived a varied and exciting life appropriate for a member of the Greatest Generation. Born in Connecticut on May 24, 1914, he was orphaned at two and raised for a time by an aunt and uncle. He was on his own at an early age and had no high school diploma. He worked at many part-time jobs in his youth, and ultimately he went to sea as an ordinary deck hand. He educated himself, including teaching himself enough math to serve as a ship’s navigator and be promoted to officer. During World War II, his ship was torpedoed out from under him. After being fished out of the water, he was transported to a naval hospital in California for treatment. On a convalescence outing, he met Bernice Silverman who was working for the movie studios in Hollywood. Like many wartime romances, they married quickly. At war’s end, the Navy offered him his own command – but Bernice said, “Come home,” and he did.
They left Hollywood, and returned to her hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, where he learned the jewelry business in her family’s store. They chose the warm dry climate of Brownwood, Texas to open a jewelry store that they would run together for almost 40 years. Older Brownwood-area couples will remember buying wedding rings there, and more than a couple of generations of brides-to-be had their wedding selections at Orloff Jewelers. Many of those rings and other jewelry pieces were designed and created by him. Brownwood High School supplemented the home-economics course with field trips to the store, where he taught the students the finer points of etiquette and the proper way to set a formal dinner table. He also periodically obtained the loan of samples of china and crystal that manufacturers had created for U.S. Presidential State dinners and for royalty throughout the world. One would have a difficult time assembling such a museum display today.
Bernard created and hosted a weekly classical music radio program. Most of the music played was from his own collection, and he wrote and delivered the introduction, and described the piece to be heard and the meaning intended by the composer. Long after he and Bernice had retired and he no longer had the program, Brownwood residents would introduce their children or grandchildren to him in grocery store lines or elsewhere, telling the children this was who had introduced them to classical music.
For 70 years, he and Bernice were rarely apart. They worked in the store together, and they played tennis and golf together, just for the sheer enjoyment of the game and competition. They walked the course until their late 80’s, when they conceded to use an electric cart. He never stopped learning. The house was full of books of all types, and there were subscriptions to many magazines and newspapers, and he and Bernice read them all.
Family was especially important to Bernard. While each grandchild had special time with each grandparent, both remember games, sports and reading with Grandpa. Holidays and family occasions would find Bernard and Bernice celebrating in Houston with the “kids.” There also were family trips, like to Disney World, where Grandpa could be counted on to join on the rides that required an accompanying adult.
He is survived by his son, Gary and his wife Marsha of Houston, and two granddaughters, Denise Starr of Washington, D.C., and Julie Orloff of Atlanta. He was preceded in death by his darling wife Bernice. The family extends gratitude to the caregivers, including Mary Beth, Joann, Linda, Beth, Brandi, Bridney, Brittany, Teresa, Miranda and Nancy, each of whom in turn provided much-appreciated assistance over the last two years.
A memorial service will be held in his honor in Gordon Chapel at Congregation Beth Israel, 5600 North Braeswood, Houston, Texas at 3:00 pm, Sunday, March 30. In lieu of flowers, donations in Bernard’s memory may be sent to Congregation Beth Israel, 5600 North Braeswood, Houston, Texas 77096, or the Houston Bar Association Auxiliary Charitable Fund Scholarships, 1200 Pine Chase Dr., Houston, Texas 77055.
Davis-Morris Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements in Brownwood, Texas.