Former 81-year-old Bastrop mayor pursues second degree

Lauren Grobe

As freshmen and seniors alike pored over syllabi and prepared for the fall semester, 81-year-old former Bastrop mayor Terry Orr joined them.

As a civil engineering graduate from Texas A&M and a former military lieutenant, Orr worked as a member of several boards and commissions in Bastrop prior to being elected mayor in 2008. After receiving a bachelor’s in classics from UT in 2017, Terry said he decided to return to UT and get his master’s at the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies after taking a Russian folklore class.

“I became enamored with Romania and the Romanian language,” Terry said. “I’m really enjoying it, I just had my first course.”

Orr said he was also inspired to get a liberal arts degree by his wife, Patricia Orr, and his daughter, Beth Chichester, who both specialized in liberal arts.

“I was always kind of on the outside looking in,” Terry said. “My job was to make money. So I decided I wanted to go back to school. When I was 75, almost 76, I applied to this fine university.”

While originally an engineer, Terry said a liberal arts education is just as important as a STEM-related education.

“Quite honestly, liberal arts people make the world a better place,” Terry said. “Engineers make the world a better place, but some times are kind of sloppy.”

Patricia is a scholar and former professor in medieval studies, particularly medieval law. Chichester works at the University as a classics graduate program coordinator. Chichester said she was a “helicopter
daughter” while her father was studying.

“She sent a spy on me on the first day of class,” Terry said. “She had one of the graduate students reporting on me.”

Terry and Patricia said they met as sophomores in college and married almost seven months later. Patricia said her parents worried that she wouldn’t finish her education, but she continued taking classes whenever she could.

“I just went on and nobody was stopping me,” Patricia said. “I love learning, I don’t think you ever stop.”

Chichester said they have always been a “scholastic family” and her parents inspire her and the people around them.

“I think just the sharing of ideas and fostering critical thinking has always been important (to us),” Chichester said. “Just creating that space to share those ideas.”

All of the Orrs have nonlinear educational paths. Patricia said she never planned on being a professor, but it happened naturally.

“It’s just a part of being a historian,” Patricia said. “You find out all these things, and then you’re sharing them. I don’t know if, as a student, you know how challenging and delightful it is to share the learning experience.”

Terry said his advice to students this semester is to remember why they’re here and understand that an education takes effort.

“It’s not easy,” Terry said. “This is a high-level university, it’s not a playground.”

Patricia also said she wanted to encourage students to explore outside their majors.

“Don’t forget the other side of education,” Patricia said. “If you’re doing a very technical sort of studies, then don’t forget to learn history and myth and poetry.”