By T. Scott Boatright
Virgil Orr, a longtime leader at Louisiana Tech University and a former state lawmaker, passed away peacefully Saturday morning at the age of 98.
The Glemora native earned his bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Tech (then Louisiana Polytechnic Institute) in 1944 before enlisting in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During a 14-day leave he returned to Ruston to marry college sweetheart Mytris Chandler before soon boarding a ship bound for the Philippines.
Orr was sent to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s base in the Philippines during World War II along with a team of about 80 other engineering graduates to develop and revise maps used by the U.S. Army in the war against Japan.
He returned to Ruston in 1946 and went on to earn his masters and doctorate degrees in Chemical Engineering, and after a few years in the corporate world with United Gas Corporation, again returned to Tech to serve as a professor of Chemical Engineering.
Orr was later appointed to the role of Dean of the College of Engineering and served as vice president under F. Jay Taylor before retiring in June of 1980.
Tech later honored Orr with the Virgil Orr Professorship in Chemical Engineering and the Virgil Orr Undergraduate Junior Faculty Award.
“We lost a Louisiana Tech University giant (Saturday),” current Tech President Les Guice said in a Facebook post made over the weekend. “Dr. Virgil Orr was an incredible leader for our institution, our community and our state. He was the definition of the Tech culture of caring. He was a mentor to me as a student, faculty member, dean and president. He taught me what a difference we could make in the life of a student through a simple act of caring. He loved Louisiana Tech and we are most fortunate for his many years of service. Our prayers are for his family at this time.”
Tech presented Orr with its Tower Medallion Award in 1994 and the Alumnus of the Year Award in 1996.
Orr wasn’t a Lincoln Parish cornerstone for only his academics. He also served as Democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives for District 12 (Lincoln and Union parishes) between 1988 and 1992.
After leaving the legislature, Orr served a term on the Louisiana Ethics Board. In 2010, he was appointed to the Lincoln Parish Library Board.
Tech Dean of Student Engagement and Recruitment Samuel Speed remembers Orr for that kind of work, too.
“Louisiana Tech University and the Ruston community lost a giant of a man (Saturday),” Speed said in a Facebook post made over the weekend. “He was kind, courteous, and caring. Over 20 years ago, I had the experience of watching Dr. Orr challenge social norms and go out of his way to challenge others.
His legacy will continue.”
Orr, who in 1991 was the recipient of the Robert E. Russ Award, presented by the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce for outstanding contributions in the Ruston-Lincoln business community or overall economic development of the area, also served as a founding director for American Bank of Ruston, board member and president of the Ruston/Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and president of the Sunrise Kiwanis Club in addition to other civic work in Lincoln Parish.
And Orr was also an important fixture at Temple Baptist Church, where he taught Sunday School classes for 61 years as well as serving as a deacon, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and in the adult Sanctuary Choir.
“Dr. Virgil Orr will be missed by many, but none anymore than his church family,” Rita Belding of Ruston said in a weekend Facebook post. “Upon his retiring from teaching Sunday School, James Davison hosted a luncheon for him and his class … I think James was in the first or one of the first classes Dr. Orr taught at Temple Baptist Church. What a servant of God he was!”