Scientist, Nutritionist and Nobel Laureate
Orr was born in Kilmaurs. When he was five the family moved from the
village, where his father was a quarry-master, to West Kilbride. He
was sent back to Kilmaurs, lodging with an employee of his father, in
order to complete his education at Kilmarnock Academy. His father's
business had done poorly and Boyd Orr was enabled to attend Kilmarnock
Academy through winning a bursary - a grant which defrayed the cost
of his school fees. He enrolled in the school on 11 September 1893.
The entry in McDougall's New Admission Register arranged to meet regulations
of Scotch Education Department, Dated 26th March 1887, still held in
Kilmarnock Academy, records:
NUMBER (ON ADMISSION OR RE-ADMISSION) 2023
OF ADMISSION OR RE-ADMISSION (YEAR/MONTH/DAY) 93/9/11
IN FULL: CHRISTIAN AND SURNAME John Orr
DATE OF BIRTH (YEAR/MONTH/DAY) 80/9/23
NAME AND ADDRESS OF PARENT OR GUARDIAN Robert Orr, Hollandgreen Quarry,
LAST SCHOOL ATTENDED BEFORE ENTERING THIS SCHOOL West Kilbride P.S.
no records are extant of school leavers for this period and it is not
known how long Boyd Orr was a pupil in the school. To judge from the
passage in his autobiography, As I Recall (1966), describing his experience
at Kilmarnock Academy, his stay in the school was probably brief - evidently
he did not, for example, know Alexander Fleming while at school and
this suggests he may have left before or shortly after Fleming enrolled
in August 1894 (see Sir Alexander Fleming above). In his autobiography,
As I Recall (1966), Boyd Orr candidly confessed that 'I found life
at the quarry among the navvies and quarrymen much more interesting
than walking two miles to the Academy in Kilmarnock. My report from
the Academy must have shocked my parents for I was taken home and sent
again to the village school where I was soon taken on as one of the
four pupil teachers.'
his early lack of attention to formal learning, Boyd Orr could have
been, in the words of Lord Ritchie Calder, "successful in any one
of half a dozen careers." He graduated from the University of Glasgow
with an MA and after a brief spell as a teacher, he went back to the
University to study medicine. It was while in Glasgow that he encountered
the dreadful poverty and diseases of the slum children. This started
him on a life-long crusade against these social evils.
Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I, he won both the MC and
the DSO for bravery. After the war he studied animal nutrition, becoming
Director of the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, the founder of
the Imperial Bureau of Animal Nutrition in 1929, and Professor of Agriculture
at the University of Aberdeen from 1942 until 1945. One of his major
interests was the study of the relationship between health and nutrition.
It was the findings of this research which were adopted by the government
and formed the basis of the diet that the nation kept during World War
II. The healthy condition of the nation has been generally judged as
a key factor in winning the war.
the M.P. for the Scottish Universities in 1945 but resigned the following
year to become director-general of the United Nations Food and Agricultural
Organisation. At a time of severe world-wide food shortages it was his
advice that averted famine conditions. He pointed out two problems:
half of the world's population lacked sufficient food; farmers everywhere
dared not overproduce in case they caused a slump in food prices and
ruined themselves financially. His solution was to use one problem to
solve the other: governments could use the excess to feed the needy.
had a forthright personality and was outspoken on issues about which
he felt strongly. There was a touch of eccentricity about him. Once
he went into a barber's shop for a haircut . While deep in thought about
a problem that he was trying to solve, he heard the barber ask if he
wanted a shave. Boyd Orr replied that it was a haircut that he wanted.
The barber protested that he had just finished giving him one. Not wanting
his train of thought interrupted, he ordered the barber to cut his hair
knighted in 1935 and was created 1st Baron Boyd Orr of Brechin Mearns
in 1949 and that same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He
was Chancellor of the University of Glasgow from 1946 until 1971. His
later years were devoted to the task of promoting world peace and unity.