On July 18, President Emeritus Dr. Kenneth B. Orr, the 15th president of Presbyterian College, passed away in Asheville, N.C., after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 83.
He was a 1950 graduate of Central High School in Charlotte, N.C., where he excelled on the football field, as well as in playing violin with the student orchestra. He was an Eagle Scout and loved his summers at Camp Steer near Charlotte. He graduated from Duke University in 1954, where he was president of the WMCA and tapped for the elite Red Friars honorary society. From 1954-1957, after ROTC at Duke, where he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a pilot. In 1960-61, he earned the Master of Divinity and Th.M. degrees from Union Theological Seminary (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) in Richmond, Va.
After three years as pastor of the West End Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Va., he returned to Union as Assistant to the President, after some years becoming a vice president. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in 1976, winning the honor of Outstanding Dissertation Award. From 1974-1979, he was President of Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now a part of Union Presbyterian Seminary). In 1979 he accepted the call to become President of Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC.
Serving as president from July 1979, until his retirement in December of 1997, Orr made a significant, positive impact on the growth of the College. When he came to PC, the College was in the final stages of a Centennial campaign with a goal of raising $10 million and was $3.5 million shy of reaching the goal. The deadline for the campaign was 18 months away—at the conclusion, $11.5 million had been raised, which included the establishment of the prestigious Quattlebaum Scholarships endowed by a generous gift from Alexander McQueen Quattlebaum. Over the course of his tenure, the PC endowment grew from $7 million to $52 million.
“I fondly remember Dr. Orr standing before our freshmen class at opening convocation in 1979 wearing a freshman beanie saying to us that he, too, was a freshman,” said Leni Patterson ’83, executive director of alumni relations. “He was immediately human to us. As I worked with him in my role as assistant director of admissions, I came to know his humor and caring for this college we all hold dear.”
There were major improvements to the physical plant and grounds to assist in more efficient operation. In total, ten buildings were either newly constructed or renovated. Enrollment during his tenure grew significantly, and the growth within the faculty included top-quality professors who remained at PC teaching for 30 years or more, making a significant impact on PC’s students and academic program. During Orr’s tenure, PC gained stature as a Carnegie Foundation Baccalaureate Institution bringing national recognition of PC’s strong academic program. Orr also secured the Knight Foundation Grant program in ethics.
“The PC family is saddened to learn of the death of Ken Orr,” said Bob Staton ’68, president of Presbyterian College. “Dr. Orr was instrumental during his tenure of moving the College forward with increasing enrollment, expanding the faculty, and building the endowment, setting PC up to be a preeminent liberal arts institution of higher learning. We are thankful for his legacy. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”
Orr received the highest honor bestowed upon a citizen by the State of South Carolina for his meritorious service to Presbyterian College—The Order of the Palmetto. Following his retirement from PC, Orr worked with the Academic Search Firm of Jon McRae and Associates in Atlanta, Ga., as a consultant.
Orr’s wife of 16 years, Dr. Ruth Currie, has asked that memorials be made to Presbyterian College to the President Emeritus Dr. Kenneth B. Orr Memorial Endowment: Faculty Research Fellowship. Address: Presbyterian College, Office of Advancement, 503 S. Broad St., Clinton, SC 29325; contact Alex Scull at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He is survived by his wife of Montreat; also, three sons and seven grandchildren from his prior marriage to Janice Jarrett Orr, now deceased. Orr’s sons are Kevin Hunter Orr of Erie, Pa; Jeffrey Hill Orr of Pittsburg, Pa; and Jonathan Jarrett Orr of Richmond, Va.
A memorial service in celebration of Dr. Orr’s life will be held at the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in Black Mountain, NC on Saturday, July 30, 2016, at 2pm, with reception immediately following. After the reception, a private family interment service will be held at the Columbarium in Montreat, NC.
Presbyterian College is located on a striking 240-acre campus in Clinton, between Columbia and Greenville, S.C. Offering challenging academics and a culture of honor, ethics, and service that prepares students to be leaders in communities, PC offers its students the benefit of engaging with an exceptional faculty who take individual interest in their students’ well-being, both personally and in the classroom. The Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy opened in 2010, and is dedicated to the ideals of leadership, honor to the profession, and service to the community. For more information about Presbyterian College, visit www.presby.edu.