Visiting Professorship Honors Benjamin E. Mays '20
Bates College has received a $1 million gift and pledge from the Orr Family Foundation, founded by trustee James F. Orr III, to support a distinguished visiting professorship in honor of human rights advocate Benjamin E. Mays, a 1920 Bates graduate who influenced a generation of civil rights leaders.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. described Mays as “my spiritual mentor and my intellectual father.” Mays, a child of freed slaves, was president of Morehouse College in Atlanta from 1940 to 1967. He died in 1984.
“Intellectual inquiry and a commitment to individual worth and equality of access are at the core of education and of a just community,” said Bates College President Donald W. Harward in announcing the gift. “The establishment at Bates of the Benjamin E. Mays Distinguished Visiting Professorship confirms these basic cultural and academic values – values made manifest in the work and legacy of Dr. Mays. Nothing could be more profoundly central to the college. We are deeply grateful to Jim Orr and his family for making possible this significant addition to the college.”
The Mays Distinguished Visiting Professorship will not be limited to one field but will support varying terms of appointment in different fields of inquiry for visiting faculty of national and international recognition.
“We are pleased to support the establishment of an ongoing commitment to the very best of what Bates and a liberal education provides,” Orr said, “and to do so in a way that recognizes Dr. Mays — one of the most important leaders in society and in higher education.”
Orr is president and chief executive officer of United Asset Management Corp. of Boston. He currently chairs the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of the world’s poor through science, technology, research and analysis. He is former chairman and CEO of UnumProvident Corp. of Portland, Maine, and Chattanooga, Tenn. In his role as Bates College trustee, Orr has co-chaired the current Bates Presidential Search Committee.
Orr and his wife, Ann Langreth Orr, live in Falmouth, Maine, and Boston. Their daughter, Brooke, is a 1994 graduate of Bates; their second daughter, Sage, is a 2001 graduate of Bowdoin.
President Harward said that Mays’ reflection on his Bates experience in his autobiography could serve as a refrain for a liberal education. “Bates didn’t emancipate me; I emancipated myself,” Mays said. “Bates provided the much greater service of providing the context which supported my choice to be free.”