Oliver Hamilton Orr, Jr.
October 6, 1921-January 20, 2018
By Willis P. Whichard
Delivered at the April 6, 2018 HSNC Meeting, Gastonia, NC
Oliver Hamilton Orr, Jr. was born on October 6, 1921 in Brevard, North Carolina, the son of Oliver Hamilton Orr, Sr. and Jennie Taylor Orr. His ancestors, principally immigrants from Scotland, England and Germany, had settled in western North Carolina in the eighteenth century.
Oliver claimed the distinction of being the only child both born on the Brevard College campus and educated there. Following two years the college, he earned an A.B. degree from the University of North Carolina in 1942 and a Ph.D. in history there in 1958.
While a graduate student, Oliver worked in UNC’s Wilson Library, where he met Adrianna Pannevis, a library science student and also a Wilson Library employee. They married at the Methodist Church in Chapel Hill on February 15, 1956, and were a couple until her death on May 24, 2005. They had no children.
Following receipt of his undergraduate degree, Orr served in the United States Army from 1942-45. He was a radio operator on a “half-track,” a tank-like vehicle. He did not experience combat or overseas service.
Following receipt of his Ph.D. in history, he taught history and American government at North Carolina State University from 1958-1965. From 1965-1989 he held the position of specialist in American History at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. When offered the position of State Archivist in his home state of North Carolina, he was tempted, but ultimately concluded that he was obligated to continue the important work he was doing at the Library of Congress.
Dr. Orr was the author of several book reviews and articles and two books: a biography of Charles Brantley Aycock, published in 1961, and Saving American Birds: T. Gilbert Pearson and the Founding of the Audubon Movement, published in 1992. He was coauthor of A Guide to the Study of the United States of America Supplement, published in 1976. Most recently, he commissioned and funded a manuscript from the North Caroliniana Society to document the development of, and inequities from, Jim Crow laws in North Carolina.
Several historical organizations benefitted from Orr’s active participation. He also supported numerous organizations devoted to conserving the earth’s natural resources, limiting human population and promoting death-with-dignity legislation. In his retirement years he volunteered his services with the Chapel Hill Historical Society, the Triangle Land Conservancy and the North Carolina Botanical Garden. A mountain man by birth and rearing, Oliver loved to hike and walk in the woods, to watch birds, and to observe nature, particularly the small animals, the damp earth and the flowing streams.
Oliver Orr, Jr. died peacefully on January 20, 2018 at his home in the Carol Woods retirement community in Chapel Hill. His ashes are buried in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery in a grave beside that of his wife Adrianna.