Ora "Oz" Caldwell Taken by Covid-19
He was "an Officer and a Gentleman"
Last updated 10/4/2021 at 7:12pm
Ora "Oz" Caldwell of Lake Wales passed away September 9th due to complications of Covid-19.
Known to many by his nickname of "the Great One," Caldwell was a graduate of West Point and served for many years in the office of the Public Defender in Polk County. He was known to many in the Lake Wales area as a man of generous spirit and manner.
"He was an officer and a gentleman," said former Public Defender Marion Moorman. "He was a fantastic lawyer, a true trial lawyer who had a way with a jury."
Born in 1937, Caldwell's life was seemingly shaped by his childhood in the post-Depression world of hardship and war. HIs father served in the Second World War as a waist-gunner on a B-24, a dangerous service with a very high rate of casualties. That commitment to duty created a lasting impression on young Oz. He worked for years as a child on his father's dairy farm near present-day Lake Kissimmee State Park. He loved to tell stories of his youth there, and the time he rode horseback on a cattle drive to move the herd from that location to family property where the Eagle Ridge Mall now stands.
"Caldwell was there (at the public defender's office) when I came," Moorman said. "When I first ran for Public Defender in 1984 I was invited to a gathering at his property at Hickory Hammock. My opponent had worked in the office for years, and I knew that many of the crowd leaned toward him. After the group of men shared some drinks and conversation, Oz announced that we were going to have a turkey shoot, and that since I was a candidate, I would have the honor of going first."
Moorman took the rifle Caldwell offered, looked through the sight, and realized the target was his own campaign handbill with his photo on it. "I was laughing so hard I couldn't shoot straight," Moorman said. "He was a great guy, with a great sense of humor."
After his parents were divorced Oz and his brother lived with their mother in Tampa and he was further impressed by her hard work and dedication to raising her family. He graduated from Jefferson High School and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point where he earned a Bachelor of Science and was commissioned a lieutenant in the US Army.
After his 1960 commissioning he attended Ranger school and Airborne school before serving two tours of duty in Vietnam. There he served as a Company Commander in the 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division and became fluent in Vietnamese. He later taught ROTC in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. For his service Caldwell was awarded the Legion of Merit, a Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars and a Special Commendation.
After his discharge Caldwell enrolled in the University of Florida where he was elected president of the Phi Delta Kappa fraternity and earned his Juris Doctorate in 1978. He worked as a prosecuting attorney in West Palm Beach before returning to Lake Wales to work for the Polk County Public Defender's office.
Caldwell was well known for his generosity, having sponsored a Vietnamese family of seven who came to the United States after the war. He later met a young landscaper named Kalob Morris and helped him into college before adopting him. Morris went on to earn a Master's degree in Architecture from an Ivy League school.
Caldwell ran his father's old farm known as the Hickory Hammock, where he roamed with his dog Loophole, named after what he considered a lawyer's best friend. He was known for his charitable nature and often helped people with things like managing legal challenges, political campaigns, or buying a car.
Gregarious and involved in the community, Caldwell served as Commander of the Lake Wales VFW, and was active in the local Moose Lodge.
Oz is survived by his daughter Wilella Nelson of Savanna, GA and brother Lapsley Roger
Caldwell Jr. of Okeechobee, Florida and his adopted son Kalob Morris (the young landscaper). Arrangements are being handled by Marion Nelson Funeral Home in Lake Wales. No services have been announced at this time.