By Sara Matthis
Marathon’s favorite fisherman retires from the festival
When I asked Bennett Orr for an interview, he responded with a very definite, “No.” I think I replied with something enigmatic like, “We’ll see,” as I mentally schemed to get this story done.
Because here’s the thing — Bennett Orr is an extremely private, humble person who deflects the spotlight like a prizefighter fends off fists. And here’s the other thing — everyone loves Bennett, and he’s done so much. There are few biographical details to share here. (The private thing.) He’s from Philadelphia by way “of everywhere,” before arriving in the Keys in the mid-1970s. He says he had long hair, a radical statement at that time in the Keys, and soon after acquired his young bride, Becky. They are still married and have two grown children and four grandchildren. In that era, commercial fishing was a generational affair of Conchs, almost a closed circle. Yet he found a way to make his own way, his own mark. Case in point: Bennett was present at the very first Seafood Festival forty-one years ago.
2017 Marathon Seafood Festival
“I didn’t know anybody,” he said, smiling. “They said, ‘Bennett, go for this; go for that. I was the ‘go-fer.’” Unasked, over the years, he became the official archivist of the festival. He kept one of each T-shirt; he took and preserved the photographs. Of course, he had a very active role as well. In most recent years, he was the money runner; collecting the take from the seafood booths and delivering it to the on-site bank. In other words, the most trusted man. Bennett has completely turned over the reins this year. “In 2017, I plan to pay to get in and pay to get out,” he joked.