In Broward County, Dorothy Orr is known to many as “Ms. BrightStar Credit Union” because of her long and active involvement in $427 million asset BrightStar Credit Union in Sunrise, Fla.
But “bright star” is an apt description of Orr for many reasons. She’s been a leader and a role model as an educator, credit union volunteer, and community citizen. Looking back on her career and contributions, Orr believes she owes a lot to two influences: her mom and credit unions.
Her mother worked as a maid and raised four children on her own. She was determined to send all of them to college, which she did.
When Orr graduated from Florida A&M University, one of her professors, who was pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, recommended Orr go there to earn a master’s degree in education.
Before she did that, Orr got married, moved to Germany for four years with her military husband, and became a mother. Once back stateside and teaching in a Broward County elementary school, she picked up her dream. She thought she’d go to Ann Arbor, Mich., in the summers to work on her master’s and still keep her teaching job.
The big obstacle was money. She needed a loan to attend graduate school. “The banks just looked at me,” she says, “and would not lend me the money.”
After the rejection, a fellow teacher “asked me why I had such a long face,” she recalls, and when Orr told her, the co-worker offered a solution: Go to the credit union. In fact, she took Orr to Broward Schools Credit Union, which later became BrightStar.
Orr got her loan and her master’s degree. That led to a long career in teaching and administration. She earned her doctorate at Nova Southeastern University, and by the time she retired in 2001, she was the interim superintendent for Broward County Schools.
From that first experience with a credit union, “it was the attitude that pulled me in,” Orr says. “They got me with their kindness.” Soon, she recalls, she was telling everyone, “You don’t need the bank. Come to the credit union.”
From there, her advocacy activity took off in a big way. She joined the BrightStar Credit Union Board of Directors, and served as chair for 26 years. Today she’s vice chair and is active in the League of Southeastern Credit Unions. She attends CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference every chance she gets, and regularly visits legislators on Capitol Hill.
Orr boasts a long list of community involvement and credit union industry awards over the years, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Broward Education Foundation.
Today she can only imagine how different her life might have been had she never received the funds to go to graduate school.
“It was a blessing to find out about the credit union movement,” she says. “Now credit unions are in my bones.”