Verne Orr: 1916-2008

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Verne Orr, a former Secretary of the Air Force died on November 27, 2008. He was ninety-two.

Born on November 12, 1916, in Des Moines, Iowa, he grew up in the Midwest and moved to California with his family at about the time he entered high school. Mr. Orr earned a BA degree from Pomona College in 1937 and an MBA from the Stanford University in 1939.

In April 1942, he entered military service as an ensign in the Supply Corps of the United States Naval Reserve. During the war, he served in the United States and in the Pacific theater. He was released from active duty as a lieutenant in November 1945 and honorably discharged from the Naval Reserve as a lieutenant commander in 1951.

Mr. Orr became a partner in his father's Chrysler dealership in Pasadena, California, and remained there until 1960, when he began a two-year affiliation with a family investment business. From 1963 to 1966 he was president of Investors Savings and Loan in Pasadena. He married Joan Perk of Des Moines and they had two children.

Governor Ronald Reagan of California appointed Orr as the state's director of motor vehicles, a position Orr held until 1969. He then served briefly as the state's director of general services and in January 1970 began a five-year term as California's director of finance.

From 1975 to 1980 Orr taught graduate finance courses at the University of Southern California. In 1977 he established a small real estate partnership with his son. Mr. Orr served on Governor Reagan's presidential campaign committee and was deputy director of the office of the president-elect during the autumn 1980 transition period. He also served as comptroller for the Reagan presidential campaign and as deputy director and comptroller for the Reagan-Bush campaign.

Prior to becoming secretary of the Air Force, Orr was involved in many civic activities, including the Pasadena Merchants Association, the Kiwanis Club of Pasadena, the Family's Services Association of Pasadena, and the United Way of Los Angeles County; and as foremen of the Los Angeles County Grand Jury. In 1977 California governor Jerry Brown named him a regent of the University of California.

Orr anticipated that he would be offered the directorship of the Office of Management and Budget when Reagan was inaugurated, because the responsibilities of that office paralleled those that he had carried as director of finance for the state of California. Instead, he was appointed Secretary of the Air Force. According to Orr, his appointment was met with some skepticism: "What is a used car salesman and a former Navy officer doing running the Air Force? Barry Goldwater, a family friend said, "I don't think Verne knew which end of the airplane went down the runway first."

The Reagan administration marked a sharp turnabout from its predecessor's approach to defense spending. "We are going after more military and civilian authorizations, higher force levels, and more airplanes and equipment. Riding the crest of the Reagan defense spending wave, Orr could concentrate on issues other than weapon system procurement. …