Paul W. Van Orden of Westport died Oct. 19. He was 92.
Paul Van Orden: GE executive. Contributed photo
Born on May 3, 1927, to Paul Sr. and Margaret Despins Van Orden in Hancock, Michigan, Paul grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. He attended Cuyahoga Falls High School where, at the age of 16, he first met the love of his life and future wife, Barbara Schneider.
Paul graduated from Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1948, majoring in English and earned his MBA from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.
Paul and Barbara were married over Christmas in 1950, with Paul heading back to graduate school at Northwestern and Barbara to finish her senior year at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
His military service included a year in the Coast Guard attending the Coast Guard Academy Prep School during World War II and two years in the Air Corps during the Korean War.
In 1955, Paul joined General Electric’s Marketing Training Program, a year-long program involving a new assignment every two months. Paul’s instincts and tireless work ethic propelled him into GE management and a highly successful career that spanned 35 years.
In the early years, he and Barbara moved often spending time in Nahant, Massachusetts; Syracuse, New York; Binghamton, New York; Owensboro Kentucky and New Hartford, New York.
He was appointed a corporate vice president in 1977 when he became general manager of the Housewares and Audio Division, and that is when the family landed in Westport with Paul working at GE Corporate Headquarters in Fairfield.
Three years later, he was appointed an executive vice president and general manager of the Consumer Products Sector that included Major Appliances, Lighting, Housewares and Audio, Television, Radio and Television Stations as well as General Electric Credit Corporation.
In 1986, Paul became the fourth member of the GE Corporate Executive Office, joining the chairman of GE, John F. Welch Jr., and two other vicechairmen in the senior corporate executive office for the company.
While his work for GE took him all over the country and the world, meeting with influential leaders, he remained an extremely grounded and humble person. An extraordinarily gifted listener, Paul preferred to let others speak with a keen interest in learning from other people’s perspectives.
Following his retirement in 1991, Paul saw no reason to slow down. He moved directly into a role at Columbia Business School as an executive in residence, which included teaching and counseling graduate students.
He also established and managed the Chazen Institute for International Teaching and Research at Columbia. During this time, he was also a member of the board of Federated Department Stores, which included Macy’s.
After six years, when commuting became too much, Paul began a four-year study program at Yale Divinity School in theology in an effort to establish a small group program at Saugatuck Congregational Church where he and Barbara had been active members since they moved to Westport.
As part of his commitment to the Saugatuck Church, in addition to establishing the small group program, Paul served as Church Moderator and chaired several committees including a Church Vision Team, and the Senior Pastor Search Committee that brought forward The Rev. Doctor John Danner.
Paul also served as a Deacon, a Trustee, a delegate to the UCC Connecticut Conference, and a member of the Church Council. His work with the church was, after his family, at the center of his life in later years.
Paul’s involvement with the Westport Community included serving on the boards of Interfaith Housing, A Better Chance of Westport, and the Aspetuck Land Trust.
In addition to his dedication to work, Paul was a devoted family man almost always with Barbara at his side. At the age of 72, he and Barbara headed out in the family car for a cross country trip that would take them over 3,500 miles to the West Coast and back.
He derived a great deal of pleasure from spending time with his two daughters, son-in-law and four grandchildren especially vacationing in Nantucket.
Paul was predeceased by his wife of 67 years, Barbara, in 2018. He is survived by two daughters; Sharon Alexander, Lisa Berger and her husband Paul Berger, and four grandchildren; Zachary Alexander, Rebecca Alexander, Dylan Berger and Patrick Berger and a nephew, Jeffrey Harig.
A funeral service and celebration of his full life will be held on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. at Saugatuck Congregational Church, 245 Post Road East followed by a reception at the church. There will be a private burial service at Evergreen Cemetery.
Arrangements are being handled by Harding Funeral Home in Westport.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Aspetuck Land Trust, Homes with Hope, or Saugatuck Congregational Church.