Belfast Telegraph

Warm tributes to Jean Orr, leading voice in Northern Ireland nursing after sudden death

Jean Orr
Jean Orr

By David Young

Tributes have been paid to Jean Orr - a leading voice in nursing in Northern Ireland who was also an "inspiration" to Troubles' victims - who has died suddenly at her home.

Professor Orr, who was in her mid-70s, was the driving force behind the establishment of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's University, Belfast, in 1997.

She was also extensively involved in the work of the Wave Trauma Centre, which offers support to victims of the Troubles.

Professor Orr became a patron of the charity in 1995, and later served as its chairperson from 2014 to 2018.

Wave Trauma Centre CEO Sandra Peake said last night: "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."

Appointed Professor of Nursing and Midwifery in 1991, in 2004 she became a CBE in recognition of her work in nursing.

At the time of the award, she said honours were usually regarded as a reward for the individual, but she considered hers as much a tribute to colleagues in the school of nursing and midwifery at Queen's as recognition of her own achievements.

Professor Jean Orr was the first Head of School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s. She had worked in the UK as a health visitor before becoming a lecturer at the University of Manchester before returning to Queen’s to become the head of school.

Professor Orr retired from Queen's in 2008 but maintained her ties with the organisation.

In 2019 she was honoured with a portrait commission for the walls of the Great Hall at Queen’s. The university said she had left an "indelible memory" on the staff and students within the school and her "legacy of professionalism and culture of caring remains in place to this day".

Professor Donna Fitzsimons added: “Professor Orr had superb vision and academic judgment, 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.”

Professor Orr later began to take a more active role in the work of Wave, lending her support to the trauma education side of the charity's work.

In 2013, she co-authored, with colleague Margaret Graham, Nurses' Voices from the Northern Ireland Troubles, a book which the Royal College of Nursing said "revealed the unimaginable horror faced by Northern Ireland's nurses over three decades of violence, and captured brilliantly the human aspect of nursing".

Born in Belfast's Ormeau area, Jean Orr travelled the world.

"She had a thirst for travel: a real wanderlust. There were very few places she hadn't been," Ms Peake said.

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!"

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