Robert D. Orr, Governor

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Robert D. Orr, Sr.

Birthplace: Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States
Death: March 10, 2004 (86)
Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Samuel Lowry Orr, Sr. and Louise Dunkerson
Ex-husband of Joanne Wallace
Father of Private; Susan Orr and Private User
Brother of Samuel Lowry Orr, II and Private

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Robert D. Orr, Governor

Robert D. Orr (1917-2004)

Facts about Robert D. Orr

1917: Born Nov. 17 in Michigan.

1940: Graduates from Yale University; attends Harvard Business School.

1942: Quits Harvard to enlist in the Army following U.S. entry into WWII

1944: Comes back to Evansville to work in family business, Orr Iron Co.; marries Joanne "Josie" Wallace.

1968: Elected to Indiana Senate

1972: Elected lieutenant governor under Otis Bowen.

1980: Elected governor.

1982: Pushes through emergency tax increases to reduce state deficit during a recession.

1984: Re-elected.

1986: Brokers Subaru-Isuzu deal for Lafayette.

1987: Legislature passes Orr's education plan.

1989: Second term ends; Orr becomes U.S. ambassador to Singapore.

2001: Following divorce from Josie, Orr marries Mary Kay Davis.

2004: Dies March 10 at age 86.

Indiana's 45th governor

Robert D. Orr was Indiana’s governor from 1981 to 1989. He died on March 10, 2004 at the age of 86.

As governor, he persuaded the Legislature to pass his sweeping "A-Plus" education package that extended the school year, required student achievement exams and established a new school accreditation system based on performance with rewards for schools that showed improvement. After leaving office, however, Orr was disappointed to see some components of his education package dismantled.

Although the A-Plus plan was his centerpiece education inititative, some educators point to Orr's role in passage of the PrimeTime program to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade as a more significant and long-lasting achievement in education.

Orr oversaw the creation of a utility consumer counselor to represent ratepayers, the overhaul of Indiana's state-run mental hospitals, the professionalization of the State Board of Accounts, the creation of the Department of Environmental Management and the creation of a state-controlled welfare system.

He signed the state's open records law and led the charge to place the state's motor vehicle license branches, then a patronage system run by the state's political parties, under the control of a bipartisan commission.

Orr also worked hard to lure Japanese and other foreign investment to Indiana. In 1986, he and Lt. Gov. John Mutz landed the $500 million Subaru-Isuzu plant along I-65 near Lafayette. The plant's owners, given an $86 million incentive package, pledged to create 3,200 jobs.

The son of Samuel L. and Louise (Dunkerson) Orr, Robert Dunkerson Orr was born Nov. 17, 1917 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. However, he grew up in Evansville and considered himself a sixth generation Hoosier.

He graduated from Yale University in 1940 and attended Harvard Business School until the United States entered World War II. Enlisting in the Army as a private in 1942, he served in the Pacific theater and rose to the rank of major and was awarded the Legion of Merit for his service.

After the war, he returned to Evansville to enter the family business, Orr Iron Co., while becoming active in Vanderburgh County Republican politics. He was elected to the Indiana Senate in 1968, and then in 1972 he ran for lieutenant governor as the running mate of Otis "Doc" Bowen. The Bowen-Orr ticket won the election and the two were re-elected in 1976.

Gov. Orr made education one of his highest priorities. In this picture, he is being interviewed by first-grader Mindy Wagoner during a 1985 visit to Moorhead Elementary School. Indiananpolis News photo by Joe Young.

In 1980, Orr ran for governor in his own right, defeating Democrat John Hillenbrand II by a record margin of 483,952 to 284,182. In 1982, facing a state deficit of $450 million caused by a recession, Orr called a special session of the Indiana General Assembly and pushed through an increase in the state sales and income taxes to help balance the budget.

He was re-elected in 1984 and made education and economic development the cornerstones of his second term. In 1986, Orr brokered the Subaru-Isuzu deal and the following year the General Assembly passed his education package.

After leaving office in 1989, he was named U.S. ambassador to Singapore. And upon his return to Indiana, he formed a consulting firm, Alliance for Global Commerce, which focused on international trade and export issues.

Orr had three children by his first wife, Joanne "Josie" Wallace, whom he married in 1944. They divorced in 2000, and Orr married Mary K. Davis in January 2001.

Robert Dunkerson Orr (November 17, 1917 – March 10, 2004) was an American political leader, diplomat, and the 45th Governor of Indiana from 1981 to 1989. He was a member of the Republican Party.

Early life

Robert D. Orr was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan,[1] where his family was vacationing, on November 17, 1917, the last of the three children of Samuel Lowery and Louise Dunkerson Orr. His father was an industrialist with interests in many companies whose holdings were centralized in the Orr Iron Company. Orr grew up in Evansville, Indiana where his father's company was headquartered. His family have lived in the area for three generations.

He attended local public schools for most of his early education, but transferred to the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut before his final year of high school beginning in 1934. Upon graduation he was accepted to Yale University, enrolling in 1936. At Yale he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Phi chapter). He earned a bachelor's degree in 1940 and then enrolled in Harvard Business School.

After the outbreak of World War II, he left Harvard without graduating to join the Army. He was admitted to Officer's Candidate School and after completing his course served as on the staff of the quartermaster's general staff in the Pacific Theater, eventually rising to the rank of major. For his service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. He met Joanne "Josie" Wallace who served in the Women's Air Force Service Pilots, while he was serving. After their discharge in 1946 they married, settled in Evansville, and eventually had three children.

After returning home, Orr entered into the family business, and became active in Republican politics of Vanderburgh County. Many Evansville factories had been creating war implements, and the end of the conflict led many of them to close. Orr began purchasing vacated factories, refurbishing them to produce goods, and selling them. Through his activity he became involved in a local economic development committee. His business and holding expanded rapidly and by 1953 he was on the board of twenty local businesses including Erie Investments, Sterling Brewers, and Grand Junction, and was director of twelve other companies. He was on several civic boards including the Rotary Club, Evansville YMCA, Willard Library, Buffalo Trace Council or Boy Scouts of America, and the Presbyterian Church of Evansville. Because of his community service, he was awarded the Jaycees Young Man of the Year award in 1953. As a result of the award, he was invited to serve as a trustee of Hanover College, a position he held for decades.

Political career

Orr first became involved in politics in 1950 as a member of a local Republican Party advisory board. In 1951 he became chairman of the local party; he served until 1954. He was a precinct committeeman for eight years, and in 1958 became treasurer for the Eight District Republican Committee, a position he held until 1960. In 1965 he was elected chairman of the Vanderburg County Republican Central Committee; he held that position for six years.

In 1968 he was elected to the Indiana Senate representing Evansville. He served there until 1973. In 1972, he was nominated at the State Republican Convention to run for Lieutenant Governor on a ticket with Otis R. Bowen. The election campaign focused largely on their opponents' records of raising taxes, and they won the election with 56.8 percent of the vote. As Lieutenant Governor, Orr oversaw the state agricultural bureau and was director of the Indiana Department of Commerce. Orr drew on his experience in economic development in Evansville to put in a place a statewide economic growth plan. He convinced state leaders to fund the creation of two Port of Indiana ports on the Ohio River, one at Mount Vernon and other at Jeffersonville, and he launched a successful tourist attraction campaign. Orr vote five tie breaking votes in the Indiana Senate during his term, including one that passed Bowen's tax reorganization plan, drastically lowering property taxes, requiring local taxing authorities to receive state level approval to raise taxes, while increasing the state sales tax. Orr and Bowen were reelected to office in 1976.

Orr was popular statewide because of his economic plans and for being associated with the tax reorganization plan. With Bowen's backing, he ran unopposed for the Republican nomination to run for Governor in 1980. In the general election he was opposed by Democrat John Hillenbrand. Orr focused on connecting himself with the popular Governor Bowen; his slogan was "Let's Keep a Good Thing Going." He easily defeated Hillenbrand, 1,257,383 (57.7 percent) to 913,116 (41.9 percent) votes.

As governor he oversaw the reform of the Indiana educational system. In 1984, he defeated State Senator Wayne Townsend of Hartford City to win a second term as governor: 1,146,497 (52.8 percent of the two-party vote) to 1,036,832 (47.2 percent). An ad from the 1984 campaign, which featured an actress playing a fortune teller and a singer with a Daryl Hall style mullet, was featured on an episode of CNN's Not Just Another Cable News Show. In the 1984 election, Orr polled 110,886 fewer votes than he had in 1980, and his overall percent dropped by 4.9.[7]

In 1986, Orr served as President of the Council of State Governments and as the Chairman of the Midwestern Governors Association.

After his terms as governor, Orr was named by U.S. President George H. W. Bush as the U.S. Ambassador to Singapore, a position that he held until 1992.

After he left his ambassadorship, Orr established a consulting firm called the Alliance for Global Commerce, which focused on international trade and export issues.

In 2000, he divorced his wife Joanne "Josie" Wallace. In 2001, at the age of eighty-three, he married Mary Kay Davis. Orr died at the age of eighty-six at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis from complications following kidney surgery. He is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

The portion of Interstate 69 south of its interchange with Interstate 64, at one time labeled Interstate 164, is named the "Robert D. Orr Highway" in his honor.

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Robert D. Orr, Governor's Timeline

November 17, 1917
Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States
- 1936
Age 14
- 1940
Age 18
Yale College, New Haven, CT, United States
- 1942
Age 22
Harvard Business School
March 10, 2004
Age 86
Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, United States