"Champion of Modern Design Classics" Passes

Donald Rorke, L/IDSA, Dies at Age 86

Nov 16 2016 - 11:20am

Former executive vice president of design at Knoll International and decorated US Army veteran Donald Rorke, L/IDSA, passed away on Nov. 4, 2016. He was 86.

Rorke was born in 1929 to architect Edwyn Rorke and classical musician Florence Rorke. He attended Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Syracuse University and completed management and design work at Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Rorke served in the US Army for 21 years, becoming a decorated Vietnam War veteran. He was also a graduate of the US Army Command & General Staff College. In 1975,

Rorke became executive vice president of design for Knoll International, where he worked with leading architects and designers such as Frank Gehry, Michael Graves, Robert Venturi, Marcel Breuer and Massimo Vignelli.

Rorke later became president and CEO of Steuben Glass; president and trustee of the Worldesign Foundation; and trustee of New York Festival of the Arts, Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, Silvermine Arts Center, Lees-McRae College and North Carolina Symphony Foundation Board.

He also served as advisor to National Endowment for the Arts; Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; and American Craft Museum. In 1990, Mr. Rorke was presented the Bronze Apple Award by the New York City Chapter of IDSA in recognition of his contributions to industrial design and to New York City.

Even in retirement, Rorke stayed busy, teaching special program courses at Duke University and Stanford University. Rorke is survived by two children and five grandchildren: In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the North Carolina Symphony or the North Carolina Museum of Art, where the reflecting pool is named for his late wife Jean.

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What a beautiful sentiment for Don. He was so generous to the New York design community. We lost so many greats recently - Massimo, Jim Ryan and now Don Rorke. That Bronze Apple Award Dinner was the best ever. Such fond memories!


My wife Barbara and I first met Jean and Don at Syracuse University where Don and I were completing our Masters degrees with Arthur Pulos in 1963-1964. After that year of acquaintance we each went our own way. However we maintained the friendship through IDSA gatherings. In addition, Don was always gracious on the occasions that I took our students, at Michigan State University, to New York City to visit design offices. By sharing holiday greetings every year, we kept up with the progress of one another's children. We will miss both of them now that Don has joined Jean. He was a wonderful foil for exchanging ideas and a serious thinker on design.


In a year of great loss, Don's passing brings me both sadness and joy. It's painful to bid another friend "So long, for now", as we Irish prefer, but joyous to remember a life well-lived and a remarkable friend. Don was a valiant mentor and a true believer in the importance and critical need for diversity in our field. An exceptional talent, Don brought recognition and significance to what we do. Farewell Dear Heart. Please save me a good spot in Heaven.