Georgia State Sen. Nan Orrock ’65 today received one of the University of Mary Washington’s most prestigious awards, the Monroe Medal. Orrock was honored by President Richard V. Hurley and the Board of Visitors during a dedication ceremony for the James Farmer Lecture Hall.
This distinction marks only the third time the medal has been presented at UMW.
The award recognizes individuals who in some extraordinary way have provided service to humanity and society that is lasting.
Orrock has served in the Georgia state legislature since 1987, including as House Majority Whip and committee chair. Her engagement with public policy dates back to her participation in the 1963 March on Washington while a student, an experience that has led to a lifetime of activism.
“My life was changed and touched by [civil rights leader James Farmer],” she said. “He was part of the groundbreaking leadership of those stood up when in some of areas of the country it meant taking your life into your hands to stand up.”
In 1966, only one year after graduating from Mary Washington with a degree in English, Orrock helped organize and lead a 600-mile walk from Whitesville, N.C., to Wilmington, N.C., for striking textile workers. She went on to work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta, Ga., and Mississippi, and led a community rights project in Virginia.
Orrock is a founder of both the Georgia Legislative Women’s Caucus and the Working Families Caucus, and is the president of the Women Legislators’ Lobby.
The Monroe Medal, established in 2001, recognizes those who keep with the tradition of service of President James Monroe, for whom the award is named. Carlisle M. Williams, Jr., received the award in 2003 and William H. Leighty ’77 received the award in 2004.
During the ceremony, Rector Holly Cuellar ’89 unveiled a plaque dedicating the space to James Farmer, who taught the history of the civil rights movement to Mary Washington students for about a dozen years before his retirement in 1998.
Professor Timothy O’Donnell recounted Farmer’s influence on hundreds of Mary Washington students who witnessed the civil rights leader’s firsthand accounts.
“On this day of dedication we pause yet again to honor a great American whose life in service to our nation is well documented, even if not widely celebrated,” O’Donnell said.
Several UMW entities bear Farmer’s name, including the James Farmer Multicultural Center and the James Farmer Scholars Program. In 2012, students in Professor Jeffrey McClurken’s digital history seminar created a publicly accessible digital archive of Farmer’s lectures.
McClurken, who is chair of the Department of History and American Studies, recalled his time as a student of Farmer 20 years ago.
“It is indeed right and appropriate that we designate, that we consecrate, this place where the civil rights movement came to life through the resonant voice, the wry humor, the deep intelligence and the raw emotion of a man who had lived through the movement, had changed the movement and had been changed by it,” McClurken said.