John Orr was born to Dickson and Letitia Orr on 7 January 1858 in Benburb, County Tyrone, Ireland, and died, while on holiday, in Dublin, Ireland on 30 June 1932.
Educated in Ireland John Orr came to South Africa in 1883 aged 25 years and after working for Garlicks in Cape Town opened his first store in the mother city. In 1885 he moved to Kimberley and opened a drapery store in what would be a Kimberley landmark on Jones Street (now Phakamile Mabija Street) for many decades.
His brother Joseph joined him in 1891. Together they would build up the well-known John Orr chain of stores around South Africa, the major ones being in Kimberley, Durban, Johannesburg, Benoni, Lourenco Marques (Maputo) and at Springs. The empire steadily expanded. In 1951, it became a public company, by which time it was employing 2,500 people and conducting some 20,000 transactions a day.
In 1892 he married Mary Ellen Harper, the union producing five children, three sons and two daughters. In 1903 he bought Lillianvale, complete with its furniture and fittings, for the sum of 6,400 pounds, and gave it the present name of Dunluce (named after the ruins of a medieval castle in Northern Ireland.)
He served as mayor of Kimberley from 1909 to 1910 and again from 1916 to 1918. In 1910 he issued Kimberley souvenir cups to celebrate the formation of the Union of South Africa. He was a member of the first Management Board of the Alexander McGregor Memorial Museum, and was founder of the Kimberley Horticultural Society. In 1918 he was awarded an MBE.
John Orr lived at Dunluce until his death in 1932 in Dublin whilst on holiday with his wife and their youngest daughter Mollie. His other daughter, Eileen Orr, married Lionel Cooper, a Kimberley pharmacist, and they and their family lived with her mother at Dunluce after her father died, and she remained there until her death in 1973.