Richard Palmer (1933-2015)

Join us in remembering Dr. Richard E. Palmer, teacher, scholar, and humanitarian.

Remembrances

I had some remarkable, memorable teachers during my time at MacMurray, more than forty years ago. Although Dr. Richard Palmer was outside my department, he was one of the most influential. He introduced me to ancient Greek thought and literature, that Pentelic marble foundation of the Western World, which has shaped my reading and thinking ever since. His Humanities V and VI courses, covering world literature from ancient to contemporary, were my favorite non-art courses during four years at Mac. Dr. Palmer's legendary oral exams instilled anticipatory fear, but they turned out to be delightful experiences for me. At the outset of one exam, he asked what impressed me in the readings. I mentioned the various tree metaphors in nearly every work (Buddha under his boh tree, "The Palm Wine Drinkard" the rowen in "Doctor Zhivago" the pine forest in Yevtushenko's "Zima Junction" etc.). On his lead, we spent the entire "exam" talking about trees! Over the years after my graduation we sometimes met for lunch in Chicago or Jacksonville, where we occasionally ate in Mac's dining hall. Dr. Palmer was the consummate conversationalist---and not just about philosophy. One Chicago visit was spent accompanying him on a search for Bach's "French Suites" in Loop music shops, and then supper at Russian Tea Time---talking of everything under the sun all the while. I was lucky to be on campus about 15 years ago for a sale of his books in the student center. I snapped up a big box full of his highly annotated classics, including the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey." His voluminous notes in these books constitute a series of master classes. In the late 1990's, Dr. Palmer commissioned me to photograph him in his suite of offices in Norris Hospital. You can see him in the accompanying photo gallery, sitting in front of his computer in omnipresent jacket and tie, surrounded by walls of books, one of the few people I've met who could have been a true philosopher king. Dr. Palmer asked me to call him "Richard" a couple times. That didn't last long. To me, he'll always be "Dr. Palmer", Professor of Humanities in yesteryear's glorious Athens of the Midwest. Long will he shine in the memories of those who knew him. Thus passes away the glory of the world. Robert Meyer, Class of 1971 August 2015

— Robert  Meyer  '71

 

I am very sad with and for Richard's family, friends, colleagues, and other former students. Reading the remembrances here, the condolences at Buchanan & Cody, and attending his memorial service, it is clear my heart is only one among many aching from his absence. I am sorry we drifted apart, especially during his last years while I was busy caring for my parents. Now that they are gone, I am especially sad I can no longer hug, laugh, and share new experiences, insights, and ideas with Richard. I miss his warm presence, singular attention, and that knowing smile captured so well in the dining hall table photo (see photo gallery). Beyond the sadness, my heart is full of love and gratitude for the man who was an intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual father to me. He broadened and enriched my inner world and shaped my identity in powerful ways - some of which are still being revealed. I am particularly grateful for Richard's passion and ability to teach and lead me to become a better student and philosopher. His love, enthusiasm, integrity, and humility, also inspired me to become a better human being. I am also deeply thankful to Richard's family. The amount of time he spent at MacMurray College with me and others was time away from them. It was no small gift and sacrifice. And, a big thank you to everyone who loved and cared for Richard at the end of his life. I became a Philosophy major after receiving permission from Richard to take upper class Confucianism, Taoism, and Zen second semester of my freshman year. That did it! I had found a mentor and home for my philosophical nature, general curiosity, and love of learning. The following year, Richard granted me the honor of assisting in that class. It was a rare undergraduate opportunity to teach, evaluate learning, and facilitate group discussions, and it bolstered my confidence to pursue graduate study. Richard clearly saw the same potential in me as in his male students, and actively coaxed and revealed it to me. Because of my upbringing and the rapidly changing culture of the late 70's, his confidence in me impacted not only my academic future, but also my self-image. I remember with some amazement, still, that Existentialism and Phenomenology was so challenging that our very small class volunteered to additionally meet on Saturday mornings, during which we might only get through one paragraph of Heidegger or Derrida. From this, I learned to lean into intellectual challenges and grew to love collaborative learning in small groups. Richard's optimism, positive projections, and high expectations were a true mixed blessing. While I loved learning and accomplished more than I knew I could by striving to prove myself and please Richard and Hilda Hale, I still write self-consciously with the memory of red ink. I also felt very badly for a while, believing I had deeply disappointed Richard by not pursuing a career in Philosophy. Happily, though, my passion for Philosophy sparked the same in my brother and he became a distinguished Philosopher of Science. I also vividly recall being deeply depressed for a week after viewing the horrors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Ethics in Film and Literature. It was a bit much, perhaps, but I realize now the lesson and the compassion it stirred in me never left; because, I am currently working on a project for peace utilizing the power of film. Richard allowed me to create an independent study course entitled Mystical and Esoteric Philosophies. It catapulted my search for truth and meaning forward into new realms at a young age. I still have all of the course materials, and I am so grateful he recognized and supported my spiritual yearnings too. During this course, Richard also enthusiastically shared his knowledge of guided visualization and offered to let me experience it. It was a deep dive into my interior world, revealing the power of intuition and my direct connection with the divine. It remains a vivid memory and was another experience which subtly and surely shaped my future. I remember Mike Appel gave Richard a drawing entitled "Dr. Palmer among the Pines" inspired by a drawing in one of our Chinese texts. It was an insightful gift, for, in addition to being a gifted teacher and scholar, Richard was also a deeply spiritual man, a mystic often not of this world, actively living and giving in this world. Richard, I will miss you until we are together again. You will always have my love, and gratitude.

— Cynthia Hoefer Sadlek  '81

 

We shared the privilege of having two wonderful granddaughters. We enjoyed his visits in our home. We treasure his daughter Kay. My sincere sympathy to his family and friends.

— Dora Gard Dyer 

 

As a renowned and distinguished scholar of hermeneutics, Richard Palmer was the kind of person you'd expect to find at a major research university, immersed in his studies and inattentive to teaching. But Richard Palmer was different. MacMurray College is fortunate that he spent his entire career here at a small teaching-oriented college, excelling as much in teaching as in scholarship. He took the lead in revising and then implementing the MacMurray core curriculum, with profound impact on all students, not just those majoring in philosophy. And he carried with him what might be called the aura of serious but also thrilling scholarship that you'd expect at a major research university. Somehow he managed to make his mark both as teacher and as scholar, seasoned with a great sense of humor and humanity. We won't see his like again.

— Allan  Metcalf 
Professor of English at MacMurray College

 

I was sorry to hear about the loss of Dr. Palmer. He was a legacy professor in my opinion. Dr. Palmer allowed me to take his class on Socrates and Plato without previously taking a philosophy class; which in turn led to a major in Philosophy. I remember him talking with me before-not realizing it was actually an interview. We had classes in his office with other students, books everywhere and a love of learning and teaching. Dr. P as we would call him would pull texts and other books off the shelves remembering chapters, passages written about the people we were studying-truly a seminar and example of the Socratic method. He helped me grow as a student and person as much as anyone in my life. He believed in me, and so many others- never judging anyone and always making the time to talk. He was kind, considerate and funny. He had a wonderful laugh and smile. There are so many wonderful Dr. Palmer stories. He taught us about many things and he was not afraid to explore new philosophies or other material as well. Dr. Palmer you made learning and life at Mac Murray exceptional thanks for touching my life and making it better, thanks for believing in me and for pushing me to do my best. Most of all you've touched and influenced so many lives I can honestly say there will never be another Dr. P.

— David  Sandoval  '81

 

He was a remarkable professor. I enjoyed the many personal discussions about books we were assigned to read. He called them an "oral exam". But I called it an enlightening conversation. He also exposed me to both theater & travel. He encouraged me to go with Dr. Decker's interim trip to London & Amsterdam Theater Class to make up Humanity credits I was missing from transferring into MacMurray my Junior year. To this very day my passion is both Travel & Theater! Thanks to him he exposed me to things I would treasure the rest of my life. I consider it fortunate to have known him. My condolences to his family. He will be greatly remembered. Best regard, Eileen Miller -Girson

— Eileen  Miller-Girson  '75

 

Dr. Palmer was an incredible inspiration who knew how to make every theoretical construct as plain as day and as meaningful as bread to a starving person. He was a gifted educated and a brilliant mind who enjoyed stretching every mind he interacted with and yet getting every person to stop and smell, touch, taste and feel the life all around. Though he was not my lead professor, his influence in our seminars and core classes as well as guidance of the religion and philosophy department almost by default whether he wanted to or not was greatly appreciated and enjoyed. He was one among several professors at the time who truly gave their life, energy and brilliance so that Mac could form leaders for the world. Thank you Professor Palmer! May you stand among the great crowd of witnesses as a gentle giant and a welcoming smile!!! In Christ's service, Rev. Deborah Talbott

— Deborah Blackard Talbott  '93

 

Doc Palmer was one of my favorite people at Mac! Not only was he brilliant and witty, but her was gentle and compassionate. I was lucky enough to have him for Core twice! I really enjoyed how he engaged his students and was readily available to stay after class to keep a lively discussion going or simply join us in the dining hall to talk about ideas. He was a champion for the students. He helped us promote the women's soccer club to a varsity level sport and attended every local game. He took time to get to know us and wanted to see us succeed. He really loved teaching and enjoyed his students. It was amazing to sit and talk one on one with him and find out about his hobbies and interests and the many peaceful protests in which he participated. He had traveled the globe to give lectures and mastered 7 or 8 languages. I was in awe talking with him felt like I was given the privilege of being able to sit at the master's feet. He will be deeply missed yet his legacy lives on in his children and in all of his MacMurray family who have been blessed to know him and be influenced by him. Rest in peace, Doc!

— Susan  Walker  '92

 

Oh my God.... Dr. Palmer was a professor who considered all of his students as his own kids. When I entered MacMurray in February, 1989, besides Dr. Gooding who was the key person that brought me to the United States, Dr. Palmer was more a mentor and a father who would like to see the best of me. I am so sad to learn of his passing and pray that the God give him the solace he deserved. He will always be fresh on my mind.

— Francis Nah Kateh  '91

 

Dr. Palmer was a one of my favorite professors while attending MacMurray College. I always admired his thirst for knowledge and his enthusiasm for teaching what he loved. He will be sorely missed by the MacMurray College community and has definitely left a very impactful lasting legacy. God bless his soul.

— Joe  Sagorsky  '79

 

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