A Life Observed: A Tribute to Robert D. Orr

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Dr. Robert Orr was a committed Christian, good friend, and exemplary physician. His medical prowess and wisdom were perhaps most powerfully evidenced in his book Medical Ethics and the Faith Factor. That book was the third project developed for CBHD’s second book series, Critical Issues in Bioethics. His volume brilliantly demonstrates how the work of earlier books in the series produced by Biola’s Scott Rae and Harvard’s Arthur Dyck cash out in the everyday practice of medicine. It is a wonderful discussion of a great array of real-life case studies, filled with the insight that comes from a lifetime of faithful service to patients.

I remember picking up Dr. Orr at the airport in the summer of 2018 when he flew to Chicago to make a presentation at CBHD’s annual conference. Over lunch en route to campus, we reflected over the many projects he had tackled in his life. His Medical Ethics and the Faith Factor stood out especially in his mind. He fondly remembered clearing enough space in his busy schedule to spend some time writing the book in what had been the home of C. S. Lewis in England. As he reflected on the records of countless sessions with patients, he was overwhelmed by how the guiding hand of God had consistently been upon him—the “Faith Factor” indeed.

Sharing that book with the world reflected the same heart that motivated Dr. Orr to serve students so effectively as their clinical ethics professor in TIU’s bioethics degree program. He was sensitive to the ways that culture and race influence what good healthcare looks like, long before that became a topic of widespread interest. He recognized, for instance, that to equip students well through Trinity’s bioethics initiatives in India, China, and Africa, his clinical ethics courses had to be tailored to their needs. Students in the U.S. and around the globe gave him the highest marks as a clinician and a human being.

CBHD’s wide reach today owes a lot to Dr. Orr. During the Center’s first decade, when the Center was running half a dozen or so conferences each year around the U.S. and in Europe, he was willing and even eager to serve as a speaker. He and Dr. Edmund Pellegrino frequently provided captivating clinical presentations to complement the more overtly theological presentations of others.

Dr. Orr was a great blessing in whatever arena he served. While honored by Christian organizations such as CBHD and CMDA, he was also singled out by the American Medical Association with an award for being an exceptional physician. However, he found his joy not only in medicine and medical ethics but also in church and family. He always spoke so glowingly of his wife Joyce. And his love for God was palpable. As he concluded the Preface to his case study book, “Most important of all, I hope the reader will come to a greater reliance on the leading of the Divine.… God bless.” God bless you too, dear friend.