Unlike Edwin R. Hunter, who knew from childhood that he was destined to teach, Horace Eugene Orr had to be convinced of his destiny. He graduated from the College in 1912, earned a degree from Lane Theological Seminary and began preaching in Presbyterian churches in 1916. Visiting the campus while attending a nearby Synod meeting in 1919, he ran into then-president Samuel Wilson in Anderson Hall.
Dr. Orr later reminisced: “I soon found myself being invited to come to Maryville to teach, but promptly refused because I was in no sense prepared to teach, had no qualifications as a teacher that anyone so far as I knew had ever recognized, and besides, I didn’t want to teach anyway.”
But the lure of academic study drew him back, and by the next year, he was a member of the MC faculty. By 1924, he had earned a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee.
His early years at the College coincided with more than a few philosophical debates raging across the country and within the church – questions about the millennium, evolution, the inerrancy of scripture, the virgin birth of Jesus.
Studying and keeping up with the debates, Dr. Orr came to the conclusion that he was probably a heretic by the College’s standards and wrote a letter of resignation. Delivering it to Willard House, where the Wilsons lived on campus, he handed it to the president, who refused to read it and simply dropped it in the fire. Wilson told his young professor that he hoped Orr would stay at Maryville until his hair became as white as his was then.
In his time at Maryville, Dr. Orr held a few titles: Professor of Religious Education, Professor of Religion and Philosophy, and Chairman of the Division of Bible, Philosophy and Education.
He oversaw the Maryville College Parish project and delivered more than a few sermons in area churches. He was active on the Presbytery and Synod levels.
All students were required to take his “Christian Ethics” course, and through it, many were attracted to his other courses, including “the Teachings of Jesus.”
He authored The Words of Jesus and Problems of Religious Thinking in 1954 and following his death in 1958, Rev. Dr. A. Thomas Horst gathered Orr’s lectures for a publication called Christian Ethics for Practical Living.
Faculty members from that era loved Horace Orr for his honesty, self-deprecating humor and his passion for teaching. He never claimed to be a philosopher but did admit to a hunger for wisdom and understanding.
And in that respect, he was – is – rightfully honored among the very best scholars of Anderson Hall.