by George Zamora
SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 15, 2003 – New Mexico Tech’s first ever endowed professorships have been established at the research university in memory of the late Patrick Kirpatrick Orr, a computer science professor who taught at Tech in the late-1970s and early 1980s.
The Dr. Patrick Kirpatrick Orr Memorial Endowed Professorships in Computer Science were made possible by a gift of $500,000 from New Mexico Tech alumna Susan Packard Orr, and her husband, Dr. Franklin M. Orr, Jr., in conjunction with the university’s recently completed Commitment to Excellence capital campaign.
After having been fully funded with matching state funds, income generated from the memorial endowment will now be used to enhance salaries of New Mexico Tech faculty members named to serve as Orr Memorial Endowed Professors.
Even though they share the same last name, the benefactors of the new endowment are not related to the late New Mexico Tech computer science professor, although Susan Packard Orr was a student at Tech during the time Professor Orr was teaching at the university. She was an acquaintance of Orr’s and took several graduate-level courses from him just prior to his untimely death in early September 1981.
“Dr. Orr was totally committed to his role as a teacher,” Packard Orr relates. “Not only did he make great contributions to learning in his classroom, but he was always available in his office to answer questions or discuss ideas.”
Packard Orr describes Orr, who was a popular professor with many New Mexico Tech students of that era, as being “a very dynamic and energetic teacher” who often liberally seasoned his lectures with healthy dosages of humor.
“His classes were always fun, not only because of his teaching technique, but because he always gave us hard problems and challenged us to think,” Packard Orr says. “His take-home exams were killers, and, to my knowledge, no one ever got a perfect score on them. He loved to put in impossible questions on his exams, and, in testament to his teaching skills, the students loved to try to solve them.”
Packard Orr calls to mind that there were often friendly competitions waged among Orr’s students to see who might finally be able to attain that 100 percent mark on those infamous exams.
“At one point, I managed to solve one those tough problems he often threw in, and he was as excited about that as I was,” Packard Orr recalls. “But, I still didn’t get that perfect score since I missed one of the easier problems. . . . It’s amazing that to this day I still remember both problems.”
“Patrick Orr was a very bright, very energetic young faculty member, who was very popular with the students,” relates Tom Nartker, a fellow computer science professor at New Mexico Tech during Orr’s tenure and chairman of the computer science department at the time. “He — along with Professor Al Stavely and myself — was largely responsible for contributing new courses and upgrading the undergraduate curriculum. We were doing an advanced type of education at that time, doing courses that would only be attempted as graduate courses elsewhere.”
“During my days at New Mexico Tech, I fell in love with the topic of computer science,” Packard Orr says. “While Patrick was still alive, I took most of my classes from him. When he died, I really felt that everything I knew about the subject, I had learned from him. . . . It was a terrible blow to lose him.”
According to local newspaper accounts, Patrick K. Orr died in an Albuquerque hospital three days after he collapsed while riding his bicycle south of Socorro, on his way back from having lunch in San Antonio.
After Orr’s death, Packard Orr continued on with her graduate studies at New Mexico Tech and finished up her master of science degree in computer science, “working with some other wonderful professors,” she says.
“ I learned a tremendous amount during my time at Tech,” Packard Orr says. “And, I’m now hoping that this endowment will help the university’s computer science department continue to grow and thrive as it teaches future generations of budding computer scientists. . . . I also am pleased to provide a permanent memorial to a great teacher who left us far, far too early.”