Dr. Richard E Palmer, 81, of Jacksonville, passed away Sunday, July 12 at Heritage Health in Jacksonville. He was born on November 6, 1933, in Phoenix, AZ, the son of Edward Y. Palmer and Agnes Mae Smith Palmer. His two sisters, Doris Kay Palmer and Betty Andresen, preceded him in death.
He married Bette Louise Wheaton on September 15, 1956. She survives and lives in Chico, CA. They have three surviving children: Elizabeth Kay Dyer (husband, Ben) of Quincy, IL; Dr. Edward Kent Palmer of Jacksonville; and Dr. Richard Scott Palmer (wife, Michelle) of Chico, CA. Dr. Richard Palmer has three grandchildren: Mary Beth Dyer, Stephanie Dyer, and Alek Palmersmith (wife Belén Vivero). He has one great-grandchild, Alejandro Palmersmith.
Dr. Palmer was one of the world's top scholars in Hermeneutics and the works of Hans-Georg Gadamer. He has spoken on Hermeneutics in Asia, Europe, Central America, and South America. In 1969, he published the first book in English on philosophical Hermeneutics: Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer. This groundbreaking work is still widely used in seminary courses and graduate philosophy classes. It has been translated into Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Turkish, and Farsi.
Dr. Palmer went on to publish four more books. In 1989, he published Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter with Diane Michelfelder. In 1997, he published Edmund Husserl, Psychological and Transcendental Phenomenology with Thomas Sheehan. In 2002, he published Gadamer in Conversation: Reflections and Commentary. Finally in 2007, he published The Gadamer Reader: A Bouquet of the Later Writings. Dr. Palmer has also published more than 80 articles on Hermeneutics.
He taught at MacMurray College for forty years. He challenged his students to read large amounts of material and reflect upon it in new ways. His oral exams from the 1960s and 1970s are still widely remembered by his students today. At MacMurray, he became chair of the Philosophy and Religion Department. He received the Dewey E. Wilkins Award for Excellence in Teaching twice. In 1993, he was named the "Joseph R. Harker Distinguished Professor" of Philosophy and Religion. He also received the United Methodist Board of Higher Education Award for Excellence in Teaching. During sabbaticals, Dr. Palmer did postgraduate research at the University of Zürich, University of Strasbourg, and the University of Heidelberg. His research in 1964-65 was funded by the American Council of Learned Societies. His research in 1971-72 was funded by the National Endowment of the Arts. In 1991 and 1995, he received Fulbright Fellowships to continue his earlier work at University of Heidelberg. One of his proudest moments came in 2013, when MacMurray awarded him an honorary doctorate for his work on the Humanities Core at MacMurray and his pioneering work in hermeneutics.
Dr. Palmer was a strong advocate of the oppressed. In the 1960s, he was active in the civil rights movement. On campus, he helped students form the Black Student Union and briefly served as an advisor. In Jacksonville, he was active in the NAACP. When MacMurray women formed a softball team, he felt it was unfair that the men had a baseball field on campus and the women had to go off campus to play their games. He strongly advocated for a softball diamond on campus in order not to discriminate against women. The softball field is now on campus and called "Palmer Field" in his honor. More recently, he has advocated for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.
Dr. Palmer was a Quaker, but for many years he was an active member of the Jacksonville Congregational Church. He was involved in the Church's Peace and Justice Ministry, both locally and in the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ. Early in his church involvement, he focused on ending the Vietnam War. More recently he worked to phase out the use of depleted uranium in weapons.
Music was a very important part of Dr. Palmer's life. He earned a bachelor of arts degree magna cum laude in 1955 from University of Redlands in music history. His undergraduate thesis was on harmonic rhythm in Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. He sang or played most days of his life, performing on the radio in the early days, and later at the Congregational Church and in various groups in Jacksonville, as well as for personal enjoyment.
A memorial service will be held at Buchanan and Cody Funeral Home in Jacksonville on Saturday, August 22, 2015 at 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts can be made for the elevator fund at the Congregational Church in Jacksonville or to the Richard E. Palmer Fund for Faculty Development at MacMurray College. Condolences may be left at www.buchanancody.com.