Kay A. Orr

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

Kay Orr
Woman with glasses, short gray or white hair
36th Governor of Nebraska
In office
January 9, 1987 – January 9, 1991
LieutenantWilliam E.Nichol
Preceded byBob Kerrey
Succeeded byBen Nelson
State 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 81)
Burlington, Iowa, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Bill Orr
(m. 1957; died 2013)
EducationUniversity of Iowa

Personal lifeEdit

Orr was born as 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. She married William Dayton Orr on September 26, 1957, and they had two children, John William and Suzanne.[2] She moved with her family to Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1963. Shortly after moving there, she began volunteering as a Republican Party worker. She supported such politicians as Richard M. Nixon, Carl Curtis, and Roman Hruska, and in 1969 was named "Outstanding Young Republican Woman" in Nebraska.[3]

Her husband, Bill Orr, died from complications of COPD on May 5, 2013.[4]

Political careerEdit

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

Orr was appointed to fill a midterm vacancy in the office of Nebraska State Treasurer 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.[2]

In the 1986 election, Orr secured the Republican nomination for Nebraska governor by winning an eight-way primary.[5]

Republican gubernatorial primary results, May 13, 1986[5][6]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Kay Orr 75,914 39.41
Republican Kermit Brashear 60,308 31.30
Republican Nancy Hoch 42,649 22.14
Republican Everett Sileven 4,281 2.22
Republican Paul Rosberg 4,280 2.22
Republican Monte Taylor 3,276 1.70
Republican Roger Yant 682 .35
Republican Chuck Loos 658 .34
Republican Write-in 601 .31

In the primary, Orr carried 81 of Nebraska's 93 counties including Douglas and Lancaster, Brashear carried 9 counties, and Hoch carried 2 counties.[7]

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. Although a Republican woman, Vesta M. Roy, served as the unelected acting governor of New Hampshire from December 1982 to January 1983, Orr was the first Republican woman to be elected governor in the United States.[8]

In the 1990 gubernatorial election, Orr was narrowly defeated for re-election 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 her raising taxes. The tax increase was passed over her veto.

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; in the 2012 election, for Mitt Romney.

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ a b "Kay A. Orr" (PDF). Nebraska State Library and Archives. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
  3. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20110604145024/http://www.nga.org/portal/site/nga/menuitem.29fab9fb4add37305ddcbeeb501010a0/?vgnextoid=f287ae3effb81010VgnVCM1000001a01010aRCRD. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved December 19, 2009. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ "Husband Of Former Governor Kay Orr Dead At 78". WOWT. 2013-05-05. Retrieved 2013-05-07.
  5. ^ a b "Nebraskans choose woman for governor's race". The New York Times. May 14, 1986. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  6. ^ Hickey, Donald R.; Wunder, Susan A.; Wunder, John R. (May 31, 2017). Nebraska Moments. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803215726. Retrieved May 31, 2017 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Hickey, Donald R.; Wunder, Susan A.; Wunder, John R. (January 1, 2007). Nebraska Moments. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803215726.
  8. ^ Knudson, Thomas J. "Nebraska, in new page to history, installs woman". New York Times. 1987-01-09. Retrieved 2013-05-06.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Frank Marsh
Treasurer of Nebraska
Succeeded by
Frank Marsh
Preceded by
Bob Kerrey
Governor of Nebraska
Succeeded by
Ben Nelson
Party political offices
Preceded by
Charles Thone
Republican nominee for Governor of Nebraska
1986, 1990
Succeeded by
Gene Spence