Lives Remembered

Jean Orr: Inspirational head of Queen's nursing school became champion of Troubles victims

HAD Jean Orr's only legacy been her work for nurses' education at Queen's University Belfast, she would still have left an indelible mark.

Her vision, drive and skill in establishing the School of Nursing and Midwifery and serving as its first head made a huge contribution to healthcare in Northern Ireland.

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

However, it was through her work with Wave Trauma Centre, helping victims of the Troubles, that she became best known in recent years.

Actor James Nesbitt, patron of the charity, said she made a deep impression on all she met.

"Jean was a life force, brilliant and generous," he said.

"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."

James Nesbitt described Jean Orr as "a life force, brilliant and generous"

Born in the Ormeau area of Belfast, Ms Orr's work as a nurse and health visitor at the height of the Troubles gave her first-hand experience of the impact of physical and psychological trauma on families.

She moved into lecturing at Manchester University before playing a key role in establishing the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's in 1997.

It said she put in place a culture of caring.

"A friend and colleague to all, Prof Orr set nursing and midwifery on track within Queen's and forged our place in the university.

"Known to us simply as 'Prof', her leadership, professionalism and vivacious style remain very strong to this day in the memory of all of us who knew and loved her."

Jean Orr was honoured last year with a portrait commission for the walls of the Great Hall at Queen's University

Jean was awarded a CBE for services to nursing before retiring as Professor of Nursing and Midwifery in 2008.

An annual lecture in her memory now recognises women in leadership.

She had become a patron of Wave in 1995 - the first patron not to be a Church leader - and would serve as its chair from 2014 to 2018.

Chief executive Sandra Peake said she helped develop a Diploma in Trauma Studies in Queen's, the first of its kind in Britain and Ireland, which later became a degree course.

She also co-edited Nurses' Voices from the Northern Ireland Troubles, published by the Royal College of Nursing in 2013, which was made into a BBC documentary.

"Despite her immense success in developing the School of Nursing and Midwifery and being a leading light in health visiting, she listed her involvement in Wave as one of the most important aspects of her life," Ms Peake said.

"We will always be indebted to her for her commitment, her energy, her sincerity and her immense compassion for others.’

The impact of her work was also felt around the world.

Dr Robert M Ehrenreich of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said she was an inspiration.

"Her story, her actions, and her words were relevant to everyone everywhere confronting trauma.

"Her leadership, her perspective, and her sense of humour will be sorely missed."

Jean Orr died suddenly aged 76 on January 11. Her family said she "lived a full life, and she lived it well".

She is survived by a brother Edward and family circle.

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Lives Remembered