More Obituaries for Joanne Orr
Looking for an obituary for a different person with this name?

Joanne W. Orr


Joanne W. Orr Obituary
Joanne Wallace Orr 85, the former First Lady of Indiana, whose dashing youth as a race car driver and military pilot with the WASP during WWII, went on to share the spotlight with her former husband, Robert D. Orr, who was Governor of Indiana and then Ambassador to Singapore, died October 10, 2006 following a brief illness at St. Vincent Hospice in Indianapolis. Joanne Wallace was born in 1920 in Springfield, Massachusetts, and went by Josie all her life. Her father, Norman Wallace, co-owned Forbes & Wallace, Springfield's flagship department store. She grew up at Scotsmore, the family's Longmeadow home where she no doubt absorbed decorating skills from her gifted mother, the former Marjorie Robbins, whose gimlet eye assembled a splendid and gracious home. An avid equestrian, during her early adolescence, Josie once stowed away on a boxcar with her horse to reach Massachusetts from Maine. She attended McDuffy School for Girls and Finch College in New York before enlisting in the military with the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) for WWII. The WASP ferried warplanes from factories to airfields, and returned planes crippled from the battlefields for repairs. In this role, she soloed every type of military aircraft, especially those so crippled "that men refused to fly them," she used to remark, before her honorable discharge on December 4, 1944 at Randolph, Texas. Ten days later, she and Robert D. Orr, the Yale College classmate of her brother, Lawrence Wallace, were married in Springfield, Massachusetts. The newlyweds set up temporary residence for a few years in Washington, D.C., before moving to Evansville, Indiana, where Mr. Orr was a sixth generation native. While Mr. Orr pursued an entrepreneurial business career, Mrs. Orr commenced her interests in landscape gardening, interior decorating and the launching of a lifelong devotion to the visual and performing arts. In Evansville, while designing landscape, interiors and extensions to the family home and involving herself in local community affairs, she raised three children. Always a lover of daring, she made a grand tour with her two daughters to all the most notorious rollercoasters around the country. While driving through Kansas, she suddenly was confronted with one of the worst tornados on record twisting her way. She paused momentarily to take stock of all manner of life scurrying for cover. Then, evincing less trepidation than Moses did at the portentous tempest that harassed entry to his parting sea, she gleefully remarked to her white knuckled passengers, "Wow, we can finally make good time," and floored it to rocket through the newly opened way. In the mid-70s, with all the children starting their own families, Mr. Orr changed his career from business to politics and the couple moved to Indianapolis. Mr. Orr, a Republican, won elections first as State Senator for one term, then as Lt. Governor for two terms and finally as Governor for two terms (1981-89) during the Reagan years. During that time, Mrs. Orr redecorated the Lt. Governor's Office in the Capitol Building, and as First Lady redecorated the Governor's Residence, all with gifts and privately raised funding. When Mr. Orr was appointed Ambassador to Singapore (1989-91), she redecorated the U.S. Ambassador's Residence in Singapore, again with gifts and donations she raised. After 56 years of marriage, the Orrs were divorced in 2000. Throughout her political and diplomatic careers, Mrs. Orr raised awareness, attention and funding for the visual and performing arts in Indiana and elsewhere. Mrs. Orr took a leading role in starting the Indiana Arts Commission. A member of the First Presbyterian Church of Indiana, Mrs. Orr was active in a long list of community affairs for which she received an Honorary Degree from the University of Southern Indiana, the Sagamore of the Wabash award, and a State of Indiana, Honorary Teacher's License for K-12. She served on numerous boards and was otherwise involved, including as Kenmore Association Regent, the Indianapolis Symphony Society, the Ballet Internationale, the Indianapolis Opera, the Indianapolis Zoo, the Decorative Arts Society and Trust, the Eiteljorg Museum, the Children's Museum, the Alliance of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Rug and Textile Society, the Asian Art Society, the IMA & Horticultural Society, the Children's Zoo, People of Vision, the Family Support Center Auxiliary, the Theatre Arts Guild, The State Assembly Women's Club, Clowes Hall Women's Committee, Traders Point Hunt Club, the Hoosier Salon Guild, the University of Southern Indiana, the Festival Music Society, the Fine Arts Society, the Historical Landmarks Foundation, the Museum of Miniature Houses, the National Museum of women in the Arts, the Indianapolis Historical Society, the Indianapolis Repertory Theater, the Indiana State Museum, the Indianapolis Art Center, the Indianapolis Civic Theater, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Colonial Dames, the Meridian Hill Country Club, and the Woodstock Club. Mrs. Orr died peacefully as bagpipes trumpeted her transition in the manner to which she was accustomed. She is survived by her sister, Marjorie Wallace Pierce of Brewster, Massachusetts, her son Robert D. Orr, Jr. an architect of New Haven, Connecticut, her daughters. Susan Orr Jones and Robbins Orr Hail, both organic growers of Osceola, Missouri, eight grand children and four great-grandchildren. There will be no funeral, but a memorial service is planned for next May. Current Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has order that flags be flown at half mast throughout the state. Those wishing to make donations in her honor, are urged to contribute to The Joanne W. Orr Charitable Fund, c/o The Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF), 615 North Alabama St., Suite 119, Indianapolis, IN 46204.

Published in the The Indianapolis Star on Oct. 15, 2006
Read More
Give others a chance to express condolences. Not right now.
More Information