I consider myself blessed to say the late John Palmer was a friend and colleague. I first met the legendary NBC White House correspondent, and Today Show newscaster, when I was admitted to what I still consider to be the best kept secret in the public relations industry: the advisory board of the College of Charleston’s Department of Communications. Then, as now, the board was composed of a Who’s Who from the worlds of journalism, advertising, digital and PR.
I can remember my first board meeting in 2007 like it was yesterday. I scanned a private room in a Charleston restaurant that was jammed with one legendary figure after another. It was simultaneously awe-inspiring and intimidating (and I wondered how, and why, they allowed me to join in the first place).
John must have spotted my deer-in-the-headlights look, and walked right up to introduce himself. He couldn’t have been nicer, and immediately engaged me in conversation. Once I’d gotten past my thrill at merely sharing the same room with this contemporary of Huntley, Brinkley and Cronkite, I began peppering him with questions about his past achievements. That sparked what would become a treasured friendship that continued until John’s passing this weekend.
While I’m sure John Palmer touched many people in many ways, I have two distinct, personal memories:
1.) After Peppercomm’s Deb Brown had arranged for my daughter, Catharine, to land a gig at Dateline NBC, I asked John how my little news junkie might parlay the job into a permanent spot on the reporting side of the ledger. John asked for Cat’s resume, jumped on the phone with her to discuss her career goals and arranged an interview with an MSNBC producer. Catharine did very well in her interviews, but heard nothing for several days. So, this doting dad sent John a quick e-mail. He, in turn, copied me on a subsequent note he sent to the weekend anchor. It carried Palmer’s personal endorsement. Catharine was hired the very next day.
2.) A year ago this May, I was fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man of the Year campaign. In a frenzied attempt to raise $25,000 in 10-weeks, I pulled out every conceivable stop up to, and including, emceeing a stand-up comedy event at the Broadway Comedy Club. At the show’s conclusion, we held a raffle. One of the items was a so-so bottle of red wine. I asked for an opening bid of $50. It was greeted by a prolonged period of silence. Then, from the back of the room, came an unmistakable voice. John Palmer shouted: “$250!” I immediately stammered, “Sold to the man with the voice of god.” After the show, I walked over to John to thank him for coming to the show AND writing a $250 check for a bottle of wine that was probably worth a tenth the amount. He pooh-poohed my thanks, but turned as he was leaving and said, “You know, Steve, I only have the voice of a demi-god.” That was the last time I saw him.
I’ve already read countless, moving tributes to John Palmer. Each reinforced the same, central theme: despite his incredible lifetime of accomplishments, Palmer’s number one priority was always his three daughters.
I’d like to think that, long after I’m gone, people might remember me in the same way. And, while my accomplishments may pale in comparison to John’s, I’d like to think my devotion to my son and daughter would equal that of my friend and colleague, John Palmer’s, to his three daughters.
You’ll be missed, John.