Harold Orel (“Hal” to his friends) was born March 31, 1926, in Boston; though he traveled to more than fifty countries, he never lost his love of the city where he grew up, and indeed never lost a distinct accent in pronunciation, marking him as a permanent Bostonian. His parents emigrated from Vilnius, Lithuania, early in the 20th Century. Harold was the fourth of their five children, all boys. He enjoyed reading at the West End Library, and, toward the end of his secondary school education, became editor-in-chief of the English High School Record and won the John Bouve Clapp Award for distinguished work in English. During World War II he served in the U. S. Navy, and his mother proudly hung a three-star flag in a window, thus indicating how many sons were in uniform. As a member of the Atlantic Fleet Camera Party, he developed photographic skills while filming gunnery exercises and Fleet maneuvers in the Atlantic. His undergraduate years were spent at the University of New Hampshire, and his graduate degrees were earned at the University of Michigan, where he developed a deep interest in comparative literature and the impact of various cultures on late Victorian literature.
His marriage to Charlyn Hawkins, whom he met in Ann Arbor in 1949, introduced him to a Nevada family who welcomed their son-in-law with enthusiasm. The wedding took place at Ann Arbor’ First Methodist Church in 1951, and he spent another year to completing his Ph.D., also serving a four-year stint as a Teaching Fellow. His first professional appointment was as a member of the English Department at the University of Maryland, College Park; he spent his third year in the Overseas Program, with assignments in Frankfurt, Germany, Salzburg, Austria, and several posts in England. Returning to the States, he completed a fourth year on the home campus, continuing a specialty of teaching military personnel at the Pentagon and various bases.
The professional career followed two paths from then on, the first an academic appointment at the University of Kansas; this led to the production of thirty books on literary figures (Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and Arthur Conan Doyle among others) and such genres as the novel and short story. He was one of the co-founders of the American Committee on Irish Studies, which eventually enrolled more than two thousand academics and others interested in Irish culture and its various manifestations in story-telling, folk art, music, and other venues. He wrote about some unexpected topics: the influence of the European Enlightenment on major figures of the Romantic Movement, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Charles Darwin, among others. He became a Distinguished University Professor in 1975, and held the post until he retired in 1997. Perhaps the most exciting moments of this event-crowded career came with two invitations to deliver orations honoring Thomas Hardy on special occasions set at Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.
The second path involved consulting on technical reports, proposals, and publications for science-based organizations: The Applied Physics Laboratory, run by The Johns Hopkins University in Silver Spring, Maryland, the Aviation Jet Turbine Division of General Electric Co. in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. It involved working closely with the faculty of the Engineering School at the University of Kansas, and always stressed clarity for better communication between scientists, engineers, civil servants, and the general public.
He was a long-time member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Lawrence, an enthusiastic photographer, and, with Charlyn, an inveterate traveler, reaching six continents together. He enjoyed theatre and film, and was an annual subscriber to seasons of plays at KU, UMKC, and the Missouri Rep. He and Charlyn were married for 65 years, until her passing in January. That union produced, among many happy results, a daughter, Sara Elinor, of Kirksville, Missouri, and a son, Timothy Ralston, of Denver, Colorado. He is also survived by his daughter-in-law, Debra Orel, and the families of his four brothers.
A memorial service will be held later at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Lawrence.
Memorial contributions may be made in Hal’s name to the UUFL and may be sent in care of Warren McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th Street, Lawrence, KS 66044.