John Boyd Orr was born in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire in 1880. He was educated at the local parish school and at Kilmarnock Academy. At eighteen he left to simultaneously train as a schoolteacher and to study for an MA degree at Glasgow University. At Glasgow he saw the consequences of slum conditions - an experience that made him a passionate humanitarian. This led him to abandon teaching to study medicine and biological sciences. He graduated MA in 1902 and MD in 1910. In 1914 he went to Aberdeen to establish the Nutrition Institute (Rowett Research Institute from 1922).
He served with the Royal Army Medical Corps in the First World War, serving with both the Navy and the Army. He was decorated with the Military Cross for bravery in action in 1917.
He was the first scientist to discover the link between low income and nutritional deprivation and the consequent public outcry in the 1930s led to the adoption of his recommendations. These included improvements in agricultural output and increased consumption as consequent on the lowering of food prices. His work on the National Council for the Development of Scotland was later adopted as UK national policy and was amongst the most successful of the Welfare State reforms of the Modernist era. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1932 and was knighted in 1935.
In 1949, while Chancellor of the University, he was created 1st Baron Boyd Orr of Brechin and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech he linked nourishment, economic well-being and the removal of hunger as necessary for world peace.
Boyd Orr is one of two Noble Prize winners who attended Kilmarnock Academy alongside Sir Alexander Fleming. No other school in Scotland can boast two Nobel Laureate former pupils with only Harrow and Westminster having more in the whole UK.
Under his guidance the introduction of free school milk contributed to the disappearance of rickets from Britain's children. Orr saw nutrition, productivity, national regeneration, freedom from class and national conflicts as interdependent and interrelated. After 1945 his ideas on international food rationing influenced policy in the USA, and prevented famine in Europe. As director-general of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) he ensured the subsequent acceptance of famine as an international responsibility. However, he felt bureaucracy and politics inhibited his work at the FAO and he resigned to promote the cause of world government through world agricultural development and the World Bank. Linked to this was the aim of world peace that he actively pursued through a number of international peace organisations.
Boyd Orr maintained his connections with his alma mater throughout his life. He was elected Rector in 1945 and then demitted office to become Chancellor in 1946, a post he held until his death in June 1971. A building at the University was completed in 1972 and named in his honour.