Minneapolis attorney William "Bill" Orth kept his one-man law office open up to the end, asking in his last week of life to make one more trip there.

Just a few months before, he powered through pancreatic cancer to defend Neal Zumberge against murder charges in the killing of his New Brighton neighbor.

Whether it was seeing a case to the end, helping build a school for AIDS orphans in Tanzania, serving as an extra in an opera production or busing junior high school kids to see an R-rated movie, friends and family members said Orth dove into his passions with stubborn dedication.

"To think that he did the Zumberge trial is amazing," said his longtime friend and fellow attorney Phil Richter. "That was another mark of Bill — he was determined to do it. He was going to see it through."

Orth, 68, died Dec. 12 in his St. Paul home. He was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in January 2015.

His journey to the courtroom was unconventional. Orth left home around the age of 13 to attend seminary school on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, where he had severely limited communication with his parents and six siblings in Minnetonka for the next 10 years.

When he returned home in the early 1970s, he wrestled with the pull of the priesthood and the secular world, and ultimately decided against becoming a Carmelite priest, said his brother, Thomas Orth.

The social unrest of the 1960s and '70s tugged at Orth, the oldest of his siblings.

That influence was apparent when Orth served as the only male teacher among nuns at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Osseo in the early to mid-1970s.

It was there, recalled Orth's best friend and former student, Michelle Swanson, that Orth defied the conservatism of the Catholic faith he still cherished so much.

"He really opened our eyes to the world," said Swanson. "He took a different approach."

He taught physical education, history, French and Greek to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. He allowed the all-girl gym class to play tackle football in the snow. He bused the seventh- and eighth-graders downtown Minneapolis to see the R-rated movie, "Serpico," the true-life story of a New York City cop who exposed corruption in the ranks.

He channeled his love of movies and music into staging school productions of "Flowers for Algernon," a play based on the controversial book, and "The Wiz," a soul musical retelling of the classic, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

It didn't escape Swanson that Orth, then in his early 20s, was taking unorthodox chances for the sake of his students. How he managed to win approval from the school for his schemes, which included hiring a second male teacher (a divorced Lutheran), she can't recall.

"Bill took a huge risk," she said.

His passion for students and education continued even after he left teaching and became a lawyer.

He volunteered at local Catholic schools and in 2005, Orth went to Tanzania with a foundation to build a school for AIDS orphans. He returned in 2006 with Swanson to teach, and again in 2007 for the school's first graduation.

Friends and family said Orth's mission in life was to fight for the underdog and seek justice. He often took on cases for little to no pay, said Thomas Orth, who managed the law firm's finances.

"He really believed in justice," Thomas Orth said.

In addition to his brother, Orth is survived by his mother, Patricia Orth, brothers Jack and Kevin Orth, and sisters Colleen Sapp and Kathleen Dodds. He was preceded in death by his father, H.W. Orth, and brother James Orth.

Services were held Jan. 16.