Development & Alumni Relations Office 

TRIBUTES PAID TO VISIONARY EMERITUS PROFESSOR, JEAN ORR  Left to right - Professor Donna Fitzsimons, Emeritus Professor Jean Orr, Professor Charlotte McArdle and Marianne Moutray

Further appreciations and tributes can be found in the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News, Nursing Times and on the WAVE Trauma Centre website.

20 January 2020

Warm tributes have been paid to Emeritus Professor Jean Orr CBE, founder of the School of Nursing & Midwifery at Queen's in 1997, who died suddenly at her home earlier this month (January 11, 2020), aged 76.

Widely recognised for her outstanding contribution to the development of nursing and midwifery education at Queen's, and to the profession in general, Professor Orr was respected for her leadership and, particularly in recent years, for her work with victims of The Troubles in Northern Ireland over many years, through the WAVE Trauma Centre.  

In 2018 she was named among the 70 most influential nurses and midwives in the history of the NHS.

A patron of the WAVE since 1995, a charity which offers support to victims of the Troubles, Professor Orr worked with Wave to establish Northern Ireland’s first degree programme in trauma studies in 2007 and acted as its chairperson from 2014 to 2018.

Leading the tributes Dr James Nesbitt – Patron of WAVE, Chancellor of Ulster University (UU) and renowned actor – described the former Chair of Wave as ‘A woman of immense compassion who not only believed that those who bore the brunt of the Troubles should be helped and supported, she also did everything she could to make that a reality through her work with WAVE’.

He continued: “Jean was a life force, brilliant and generous. She had such humanity and compassion and for one who had achieved so much in her professional life great humility as well which is a rare quality.

“She was a woman of immense creativity, colour and warmth with a real zest for life.

“I loved her sense of humour, her optimism and her grace. I can’t believe she’s gone.”

Born in the Ormeau area of South Belfast, Jean Agnes Orr trained as a nurse in the Royal Victoria Hospital before becoming a health visitor during the height of The Troubles. She studied for a BA in Social Administration at UU (then the Ulster Polytechnic), and, in 1977/78 undertook an MSc in Nursing at the University of Manchester, returning to Manchester as a lecturer in 1981.

Jean came back to Northern Ireland in 1991 to set up – and become the inaugural Head of – the new School Nursing & Midwifery at Queen’s.

Throughout a distinguished career, she wrote widely on women’s health, health visiting, community health and nurse education. Her overseas work focused on women’s health in developing countries and she served as a consultant to the World Health Organisation and World Bank.

In 2004, Professor Orr was awarded a CBE for her contribution to nursing; she retired in 2008 after an eminent career as Professor of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s though she remained in touch with the University in the years that followed. 

She co-authored and co-edited Nurses' Voices from the Northern Ireland Troubles, with her colleague Margaret Graham, which included personal accounts from health professionals who had cared for people during the violent thirty-year period at the end of 20th century in Northern Ireland. Published by the Royal College of Nursing in 2013, it was later made into a BBC documentary, Nurses on the Frontline.

An annual lecture in her memory was inaugurated at Queen’s in 2017, which recognises women in leadership.

In 2019 Professor Orr was honoured with a portrait commission for the walls of the Great Hall at the University and enjoyed a celebratory dinner with friends and former colleagues to mark the occasion.

Speaking about Professor Orr, Wave CEO Sandra Peake said: “She had been a nurse throughout The Troubles, and knew what it had done to the community.

“She had amazing vitality, amazing energy.

“Her death [on Friday] came as a great shock. It was very sudden, very unexpected. She will be very badly missed. She was an inspiration.”

Professor Donna Fitzsimons, the current Head of School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s said: “Professor Orr had superb vision and academic judgement, setting up a School that would educate graduate nurses across each of the four fields of nursing and midwifery – making a substantial contribution to healthcare in Northern Ireland.”

The internationally acclaimed artist and Queen’s Honorary Graduate, Colin Davidson, also a patron of WAVE, said he was ‘shocked and saddened’ by the news.

Dr Davidson continued: "Jean’s compassion, energy and drive in her work with victims and survivors of The Troubles was truly inspiring. This rubbed off on everyone she met.

"She will be dearly missed and remembered with love by me and all her friends at WAVE."

Marianne Moutray, who was associate head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s at the time Professor Orr was its Head, said: “Jean was different from anyone who had ever worked at Queen’s before.

“She was like an exploding firework.

“And she had to start from scratch to create the School of Nursing – but she just breezed through challenges. Nothing was unsolvable to her.

“Jean was kind and caring – from the most junior nursing student to the most senior of colleagues, she treated everyone with respect. She was an intelligent, creative person with an amazing sense of humour and phenomenal sense of style.

“And she never forgot her lipstick!”

Paying tribute to Jean on social media, Charlotte McArdle, Northern Ireland’s chief nursing officer wrote: “I’m very sorry to hear of the death of Professor Jean Orr previously head of Queen’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and supervisor a long time ago of my MSc dissertation."

Jean is survived by a brother Edward, sister-in-law Evelyn, nephews David, Allister and his wife Nicola, grandnephews Euan and Jake and grandniece Melissa and the wider family circle.

For general enquiries about this story or to submit graduate news items, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO), telephone: +44 (0)28 9097 5321.

Caption (L-R): Professor Donna Fitzsimons, Head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s; Emeritus Professor Jean Orr; Professor Charlotte McArdle, Chief Nursing Officer, and Marianne Moutray, former Director of Education in the School pictured at the 2017 Annual Jean Orr Lecture.    

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