By JOHN P. EVANS, III
When it comes to being a community leader through setting the example, few who know Denton attorney Walt Palmer would disagree that he sets the bar for others to follow.
“He’s one of those people who puts service before self. He gives a lot of his time to others,” said Chamber of Commerce President Carville Leaf of Palmer, whom he has worked closely with as members of the Denton Rotary Club. “There aren’t many people like Walt around. He’s one of a kind.”
Palmer has served many years as treasurer of the Rotary Club, on the Caroline County Board of Education school board, as a member of the choir and as a Sunday school teacher at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, and as a scout leader for Boy Scout Troop 165 in Denton.
And that’s only the most noticeable of Palmer’s community efforts, which include having served on the Board of Directors for Caroline Hospice and on the Board of Trustees of the Upper Shore Community Health Center.
All that, and running his private general practice law firm as well.
“He is a very, unique individual. His volunteerism touches so many lives,” said local banker Tolbert Rowe, who served with Palmer on the school board.
“When he gets involved, he gets involved. He puts all of himself into whatever it is he’s doing,” added Leaf.
Palmer’s service to the community may long have been taken for granted, but on January 26 Palmer was recognized for his community service when he received the Caroline County Chamber of Commerce’s Community Service Award at its Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner.
Palmer has never sought fanfare or praise for all that he does so it is no surprise that he said he was “surprised” when he was notified of his selection prior to the dinner, yet honored to receive an award that has previously gone to “more notable” citizens of the county.
“It was obviously a big honor to me,” said Palmer, a lifelong resident of Denton. “The chamber does so many great things in the community, so it means a lot to win it. I looked at the list of the past winners and I wondered what I was doing there (to receive the same award). There are so many great people that the award has gone to.”
Palmer, who met his wife of 37 years, Mary Ann, at North Caroline High School when the two shared a music stand in band class, said he learned the importance of volunteerism from his parents, Walter Jr. and Genevieve.
“Looking back on it, it came from my dad and mom,” said Palmer.” “My dad was active in all sorts of activities and I was strongly influenced by him. He was a member of the fire department, to an extent equal to my longtime (more than 40 years) devotion to the Boy Scouts.”
“Then there was church. My grandmother Palmer was heavily involved with the Methodist women. My parents and grandparents believed that as Christians it was our duty to do what we could to help make people’s lives better,” he added.
At St. Luke’s, Palmer sings in the adult choir (since 1979), plays in the hand bell choir, teaches Sunday School, occasionally leads the Children’s story time, and over the years has held a number of church offices. Currently, he chairs the Church Council on Ministries.
“He is a big part of our leadership in the congregation. He’ll get his hands dirty, no matter what it is, he’s very active in many ways,” said the Rev. Karen Handy, pastor at St. Luke’s, where Palmer has been a life-long member.
”He’s a great example of what’s known as a servant leader. He serves others even while he is leading,” she added. “His faith is a big part of who he is, where he comes from and how he lives his life. I can see where his faith swells up and affects the life he lives.
“Walt can be a serious person and yet he has a great sense of humor,” Handy added. “I rarely interact with him that he doesn’t say or do something that makes me laugh. He is a fun guy to be around.”
Palmer is also a member of the Rotary Club, his dedication shown by his perfect attendance record over 24 years.
“In Rotary, he’s been the Treasurer forever. He’s very active in Rotary events,” said Leaf.
Most visible to the public is Palmer’s service to youth, primarily through the Boy Scouts. He also recently finished a five-and-a-half year stint on the county’s school board, choosing not to run for re-election because board meetings conflicted with Boy Scout meetings.
“It (serving on the school board) was something I had wanted to do for 30 years,” said Palmer. “It was really special to me to get to serve on the board. There are some really great people that I got to know. Plus, I got the opportunity to go into the schools and see how it all worked.”
Mary Ann Palmer taught in the public schools for 18 years and then taught in a daycare facility for another 19 years, which influenced Walt’s interest in education.
“I helped grade a lot of papers and always wanted to do more towards educating our youth,” said Palmer. “So it was a privilege as well as a great experience being on the school board. I enjoyed getting to talk to the kids. I grew to have a greater appreciation for teachers as a whole.”
“I left the school board because the Boy Scouts often met the same night as the board meetings or a school event I needed to be at. I was missing half the Boy Scout meetings,” added Palmer.
Palmer is also a Character Counts! Coach, going into the classroom on a weekly basis to give s 15-minute lesson on one of the five pillars of good citizenship.
“I really enjoy it. Preparing a 15-minute presentation each week gave me a greater appreciation for how much work teachers must put into making an entire lesson plan for an entire day,” he said.
Then there is Palmer’s lifelong dedication to the Boy Scouts. He joined the Scouts in 1965 and earned the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout In 1972. “My first scoutmaster was Sonny Callahan, and he got me interested in continuing in scouting,” Palmer said.
His involvement in scouting was interrupted by college and then law school. A history buff, he just happened to attend college in two of the more historic sites in American history – he attended Gettysburg College during his undergrad years, then attended William and Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law in Williamsburg, Va. to get his law degree.
Palmer renewed his involvement with the Boy Scouts when he returned to Denton to practice law, serving as a scoutmaster for seven years from 1980-1987. After a short break as a scout leader, he has served continuously as a scoutmaster since 1990.
Altogether, he has been involved in Scouting for more than 40 years. “Scouting was important to me as a kid and advancing to Eagle Scout was one if my proudest accomplishments. A lot of people did good things for me and I wanted to pass it on,” Palmer said.
Palmer said working with youth keeps him feeling young. ”The boys are a hoot to be around. Working with them is a lot of fun,” said Palmer. “Being a Boy Scout brings out the best in them. It gets them involved in the community and builds character as well as teaches them skills they can use for a lifetime. In the Boy Scouts you also learn to work as a team and how to get things down as a group.”
Palmer’s involvement in the Boy Scouts has lasted so long that he is now mentoring a second generation of youth.
“I am now seeing the sons of former scouts I worked with coming through the ranks. It’s cool that I now get the chance to see them as fathers and see how well they have turned out,” he said. Palmer added that he doesn’t hesitate to ask for help on occasion from his former scouts.
“If I need someone to help one of the kids earn his merit badge, it helps to know all those former scouts,” he said.
During his time as a scoutmaster, Palmer has worked with 50 teens who have earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
Besides the Boy Scouts, and with the possible exception of becoming a lawyer – he said that as a teen, he thought he would be good as a lawyer because he liked debating with his teachers over grades and course topics – Palmer said he has never consciously had a plan for his life and what he wanted to accomplish.“I never sat down and planned out what I wanted to achieve over my lifetime. It just came naturally for me to do what I have done,” said Palmer.
A community leader in his own right, Rowe holds Palmer’s accomplishments in high regard.
“He is all about helping the youth. The fact that he helped 50 boys to achieve Eagle Scouts says a lot about his dedication and leadership skills,” Rowe said. “He has nurtured so many boys through Boy Scouts. The Scouts have always been his primary focus.”
“He has dedicated much of his life to helping young people, whether it was in church, as a scout leader or by being on the school board” added Rowe.“He was a very valuable member of the Board of Education. He was always prepared for the meetings and it was obvious that he worked hard to keep in touch with what was going on in the schools,” said Rowe. “It was an honor working with him.”
Leaf said he counted Palmer as a good friend. “We have been in Rotary together for many years and it has been an honor to have him as a friend,” said Leaf.
Of Palmer, Handy said that “it is obvious he has a very deep faith that shows in the way he lives his life day to day. His joy shines through. ”He deeply cares about this community and the people in the community,” Handy added.