Robert D. Orr


Thomas Hart Benton Mural Medallion (1992)
International Council Dinner
Presenter: Thomas Ehrlich
Honorary Degree (1985)
Doctor of Laws
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: John William Ryan


The Honorable Robert D. Orr took office as governor of the state of Indiana in a time of profound economic crisis, industrial transition, and technological change. He met these extraordinary challenges with courageous action, innovation, and a far-reaching understanding of the demands of the future, setting in place a foundation for the next century.

Governor Orr's strategic plan for economic development brought together human and technological resources in the creation of new opportunities for business and industry. His focus on the interrelationship of education, technology, and economic growth resulted in unique programs, emulated by other states, that established new directions through the bold commitment of state funds and the coordination of private and public enterprise.

Among the governor's important initiatives were three organizations under the aegis of the Department of Commerce: the Corporation for Innovation Development, the Corporation for Science and Technology, and the Indiana Institute for New Business Ventures. The Corporation for Innovation Development, a private, for-profit corporation launched in 1981 and unique in the United States, provided venture capital for businesses with high growth potential. Prior to its establishment, there was no venture capital market in Indiana, a situation the governor recognized as a serious obstacle to economic development.

The Corporation for Science and Technology was an innovative coordination of the resources of industry and universities to create a research base for new technology, and to apply current technology to production processes in industry. The Institute for New Business Ventures offered technical assistance to help young companies through the early years when many businesses fail. A fourth organization, the Indiana Development Council, had been established by legislation requested by the governor to coordinate and evaluate public and private development programs in light of long-term goals. For the governing boards of these organizations, Governor Orr drew on leaders from government, private business, education, and organized labor, bringing some of the best minds in the state to participate in these instruments of economic development.

Two other significant groups established by the governor were the Labor Management Council, which worked to develop new approaches to cooperation between labor and management, and the Indiana Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Nutrition, an organization aimed at making better use of Indiana's agricultural potential.

Governor Orr's personal commitment to education as the central factor in economic growth and quality of life led to programs that brought benefits extending far beyond the period of his administration. Despite budget constraints when he assumed office, he took steps to strengthen education, appointed a Special Committee on Primary and Secondary Education, and established the Indiana Consortium for Computer and High Technology Education that moved the state to a position of leadership in the use of computers in schools. His Project Primetime, which provided more individual attention and a more productive environment for learning by reducing student-teacher ratios, received national attention. The governor also promoted stricter standards for high school graduation, developed adult education and programs for gifted children, increased resources for summer school, and provided funding to raise teacher salaries.

Robert Orr was born in Evansville, Indiana, and received the A.B. in American history from Yale University in 1940. He attended the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, and served in the United States Army during World War II, attaining the rank of major and receiving the Legion of Merit. He became involved in Indiana politics early in his business career. His first elective office was as member and chairman of the Center Township Board in Vanderburgh County.

He was elected to the Indiana State Senate in 1968, and after serving only four years was nominated for lieutenant governor, a tribute to his dedication and intelligent action as a senator. As lieutenant governor during the eight years of Governor Otis R. Bowen's term in office, Robert Orr overhauled and strengthened the Department of Commerce and took a prominent role in the administration. In one of his most courageous acts as lieutenant governor, he broke five tie votes in the 1973 General Assembly to assure the passage of bills creating a property tax relief program that set the stage for industrial development and increased home ownership. He was elected governor by a record margin in 1980, and won reelection in 1984.

Throughout his tenure as governor, he served in important national organizations, including the National Task Force on Education and Economic Growth, the steering committee of the Education Commission of the States, the National Governors Association and its Technological Innovation Task Force, the Republican Governors Association, and, by appointment of President Reagan, the Amtrak board of directors, where he represented all state governors. He holds honorary doctorates from five Indiana colleges and universities.

Governor Robert D. Orr brought the state through the most difficult financial crisis in its history, and at the same time set new directions. With rare vision he committed himself to plans that will not come to fruition until the twenty-first century. His innovation and strength of purpose prepare Indiana to meet the challenges ahead.