The Vol Family endured a great loss Tuesday with the passing of Orvis Milner.
If ever there was a true "Vol for Life," Milner, 90, was it.
Milner was a football and baseball letterman for the Vols, playing for the legendary General Robert R. Neyland on the gridiron in 1946 and 1947. He was a starting blocking back on the 1946 team, which finished 9-2-0 en route to winning the southeastern conference, playing in the Orange Bowl, and finishing seventh in the nation in the final AP Poll.
After Milner's college athletic career ended, he turned to the golf course to satisfy his competitive urge.
Milner never missed a chance to give back to his beloved university, and was a very generous sponsor and supporter to the University of Tennessee's men's golf program for several decades.
"Orvis Milner was a true Southern gentleman in every sense of the word," said current UT men's golf coach Jim Kelson.
"He was a football player for General Neyland, and a baseball player after returning to UT as a veteran. He has been an ardent supporter of Tennessee men's golf and it was always nice to see his smiling face. He possessed an infectious positive, caring and genuine attitude among every person he met."
"A lot of people will be saddened by his passing," Kelson said. "He was a true Vol For Life."
Here is his complete obituary
On Tuesday morning August 5, 2014 we bid farewell to a hero. Orvis Milner passed away in his bed at Clarity Pointe where he lived for a little over a year. He lived for many years with the disease of Alzheimer's. He never gave up or gave in to it; he continued to live his life to the best of his ability. He finally succumbed after fracturing his hip. He died at the age of 90 after a life well lived, one filled with love, family and friends.
Orvis was born May 29, 1924 at Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. He moved to Knoxville at an early age with his family. He made Knoxville his home. He graduated from Knoxville High in Dec. of 1942. He had a prominent career in athletics at Knoxville High School and later in college. From high school Orvis went on to attend University of Tennessee arriving in time for spring football practice in 1943. He turned 18 in May and like most the other young men went off to serve his country. His first stop for the US Navy was officer training at the University of Richmond where his first assignment for the US Navy was captain of the football team. He became University of Richmond's leading scorer, the leading scorer in the Southern Conference and was chosen for the all conference team. After completing his training he went on to serve as a Lieutenant on a Navy destroyer until the war ended in 1946.
He returned to UT after the war and once again proved to be a champion. He graduated with honors, was a member of the sigma Chi fraternity, played baseball and was a star football player in 1946-1948. Orvis was one tough bird, a sentiment shared by at least one sports writer who wrote in 1946 " I don't think there was a single tackle that Milner was not involve in. When he hits you can hear the boom in Maryville." In 1948 he was voted captain of the football team but was unfortunately unable to carry out that role due to injury. In 1948 General Neyland called a press conference to make an announcement. He said "You know you are snake bit when you lose your best defensive player, your best offensive player, and my best all around player in the same day. I am sorry to report that Orvis Milner experienced a career ending knee injury and will be unable to return to football..."
On the outside chance anyone is still alive that listened to the high school and college radio broadcasts in the 1940's there is a good chance you heard his name, more than once. Growing up in Knoxville, a once much smaller community, his children heard the stories from others every where they went. As youngsters, they rarely met anyone that did not know their father. One day while shopping with her children in Miller's Dept Store Orvis's wife Nancy was observed in a state of frustration. She was attempting to teach her distracted children their address when she finally threw up her hands in defeat. "Oh never mind, if you get lost just tell them who your daddy is." He met Nancy Broyles, who would later become his bride, at the University of TN when she arrived the summer of 1946. They were married in Greenville, TN in December of 1947. Orvis was called back into the navy during the Korean War where he served on a destroyer from 1949-1951. After college, he went on to have successful career in business. He co-founded Knoxville Beverage Co. in 1961. He lived life off the field much like he did on the field, with discipline, determination, toughness and sheer joy.
His love of sports did not wane after college. He officiated football games all over the state in the early fifties. He remained active in sports thorough his life, a lifelong supporter of UT, founder of the quarterback club in addition to many sports organizations. He was active in his church and community and he became influential figure in golf.
Orvis began playing a little golf once he was back in Knoxville where he started a family and a career. In reality the word "little" had no place in his vocabulary. He never did anything "little", not in baseball, basketball, football, not in his devotion to his family or his business and as it turned out not in golf. In the 1960's he was busy starting local and state wide golf tournaments. In the late sixties and early seventies he was busy winning local and statewide tournaments. By the 1980's he was a national figure in golf. He played in two British Senior Opens, four USGA Senior championships, won countless club tournaments and became the National Americans Senior Champions in 1981, H was ranked 5th nationally by Golf Digest. His love of golf expanded beyond his game. He became a USGA official; he served as director of the Tennessee Golf Association for 47 years, the director of the Southern Golf Association from 1972 to 2005. He became involved with local and statewide youth groups. He was passionate about introducing young men and women to the game of golf, guiding many to college and professional careers.
His knowledge and love of sports surpassed most. It was a part of who he was and he made it an important part of life for his family. His wife used to say if there is a ball involved Orvis will be there. Most families read about stars like Johnny Unitus, Whitey Ford, Joe Namith, Arnold Palmer, Greg Gavin, Bobby Walcott- a list that could go for miles, Orvis's family knew these men as friends, people who came to their homes, ate at their dinner table and called them on their birthdays.
As exciting as this world was, it was not about the "super stars " for Orvis. He was clear about giving credit where it was due. His teammates, the YMCA, his high school teachers and coaches, his college coaches, his mentors in business --these were the real stars to him. His children had the honor of coming to know them all, if not in person then through the stories and the shared memories. Orvis was first introduced to sports by his older brother Ed, his boyhood hero. By the time he reached UT he was primed and ready for General Neyland to take over the role of mentor.
In a recent interview, Orvis was asked about playing for Neyland. The interviewer being well versed in Neyland's work ethic and the demands he put on his players asked Orvis if he was tough to play for. Orvis looked at him bewildered at first. After a long pause, he responded with an emphatic, "no, he was not hard to play for. It was an honor and a privilege to play for him. If he asked me to practice something ten times I wanted to do it twenty times." As I listened to that interview it finally dawned on me exactly why General Neyland was a bigger than life figure in our household and our community. If he asked you to walk to the moon his players knew in their hearts that that he would lead the Orvis knew taking every step with him if necessary. That is the legacy, the gift that Orvis passed on to his family. There was never a doubt in our mind that he would go to the ends of the earth and beyond for us, a true hero.
Orvis Milner was survived by his three children; Rebecca Fuller, Michael Milner and Mary Milner; his brother Harold Milner, his five grandchildren; Katie Milner Dukes, Megan Milner Evans, Smith Fuller, Margaret Anne Fuller and Anna Marie Reno and three great grandchildren; Nolte and Merris Dukes and Amelie Fuller. Predeceased by his loving wife Nancy Broyles Milner, parents; Homer and Lulu Milner and brothers; Leon, Ed, and Wayne.
The Funeral Service will be held at The Church of the Ascension at 2:00 pm, Friday August 8, 2014. A reception will follow in the Parrish Hall. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the YMCA Leader's Club 616 Jessamine St. Knoxville, TN 37917 or the charity of your choice.