Kay A. Orr

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kay A. Orr
Woman with glasses, short gray or white hair
Orr in 2017
36th Governor of Nebraska
In office
January 9, 1987 – January 9, 1991
LieutenantWilliam E. Nichol
Preceded byBob Kerrey
Succeeded byBen Nelson
36th Treasurer of Nebraska
In office
June 15, 1981 – January 9, 1987
GovernorCharles Thone
Bob Kerrey
Preceded byFrank Marsh
Succeeded byFrank Marsh
Personal details
Kay Avonne Stark

(1939-01-02) January 2, 1939 (age 84)
Burlington, Iowa, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
(m. 1957; died 2013)

Kay Avonne Orr (née Stark; January 2, 1939) is an American politician who served as the 36th governor of Nebraska from 1987 to 1991. A member of the Republican Party, she was the state's first and to date only female governor.

Early life and education[edit]

Orr was born Kay Avonne Stark in Burlington, Iowa. Her mother, Sadie, was active in local politics, while her father, Ralph, was a Burlington city council member and farm implements dealer.[1] She attended the University of Iowa from 1956 to 1957.


In 1963, after moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, Orr began volunteering for the Republican Party. She supported such politicians as President Richard Nixon and Senators Carl Curtis and Roman Hruska, and was named Nebraska's Outstanding Young Republican Woman in 1969.[2]

Orr greeting President Ronald Reagan in 1987
Orr with President George H. W. Bush in 1990

Orr was appointed as Nebraska State Treasurer following the midterm resignation of Frank Marsh in 1981. She was subsequently elected to that post in 1982, becoming the first woman ever to be elected to a statewide constitutional office in Nebraska. She held that office until 1987.[3]

Nebraska governor[edit]

In the 1986 election, Orr secured the Republican nomination for Nebraska governor after winning an eight-way primary, carrying 81 of Nebraska's 93 counties including Douglas and Lancaster, Kermit Brashear carried 9 counties, and Nancy Hoch carried 2 counties.[4][5]

In the 1986 general election, she defeated former Lincoln Mayor Helen Boosalis in the first U.S. gubernatorial election in which both major party candidates were women, winning by a 53% to 47% margin. Orr was the first Republican woman elected governor in the United States, and the second Republican woman governor after Vesta M. Roy, who served as the unelected acting governor of New Hampshire from December 1982 to January 1983.[6]

In the 1990 gubernatorial election, Orr was narrowly defeated by Democrat Ben Nelson. Nelson's two main attacks on her gubernatorial record were her support of a proposed low-level nuclear waste dump, and a tax increase which was passed over her veto.


As governor, Orr was against tax increases, against the Equal Rights Amendment, and opposes abortions in all cases.[7]

Later career[edit]

Orr co-chaired a coalition seeking to prohibit gay marriage in the state constitution via Initiative 416.[8] Her effort was successful, and gay marriage was banned in 2000. In 2015, the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling rendered the ban unenforceable.

Orr served twice as a presidential elector for the state of Nebraska, casting one of the state's five electoral votes. In the 2004 presidential election, she voted for George W. Bush, and in the 2012 election, for Mitt Romney.

Personal life[edit]

She married Bill Orr on September 26, 1957, and they had two children, John William and Suzanne.[3] Bill died from complications of COPD on May 5, 2013.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kaufman, Joanne (December 12, 1988). "While Nebraska Governor Kay Orr Makes Policy, Husband Bill, Her 'First Gentleman,' Bakes Meat Loaf". People Magazine. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  2. ^ "Nebraska Governor Kay A. Orr". Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved December 19, 2009.
  3. ^ a b "Kay A. Orr" (PDF). Nebraska State Library and Archives. Archived from the original on November 16, 2006. Retrieved October 7, 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  4. ^ Hickey, Donald R.; Wunder, Susan A.; Wunder, John R. (January 1, 2007). Nebraska Moments. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803215726.
  5. ^ "Nebraskans choose woman for governor's race". The New York Times. May 14, 1986. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  6. ^ Knudson, Thomas J. "Nebraska, in new page to history, installs woman". New York Times. 1987-01-09. Retrieved 2013-05-06.
  7. ^ Knapp, Fred. Schlafly critiques election, Lincoln Star (Lincoln, NE) 21 Dec 1986 [1]
  8. ^ Hicks, Nancy (October 5, 2000). "Orr backs ban on same-sex marriages". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  9. ^ "Husband Of Former Governor Kay Orr Dead At 78". Archived June 15, 2013, at archive.today WOWT. 2013-05-05. Retrieved 2013-05-07.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Treasurer of Nebraska
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of Nebraska
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for Nebraska State Treasurer
Succeeded by
Frank Marsh
Preceded by Republican nominee for Governor of Nebraska
1986, 1990
Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Senator Order of precedence of the United States
Within Nebraska
Succeeded byas Former Governor
Preceded byas Former Governor Order of precedence of the United States
Outside Nebraska