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Elizabeth Palmer

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Elizabeth Palmer Obituary

CLAREMONT, Calif. - Elizabeth Palmer, of Claremont, Calif., who was General Secretary of the World YWCA from 1955 to 1978, passed away Sat., Oct. 4, at her retirement home at Pilgrim Place in Claremont. Ms. Palmer was born in Manhattan, on April 17, 1913 to Elizabeth and Embury Palmer of New York City, and lived for many years in Portland, Conn. As a girl, she attended New York schools. Her higher education included Columbia University, Barnard Teachers' College and Union Theological Seminary, where she earned a degree in education with a religious education major. A native New Yorker, Ms. Palmer's lifelong dedication to the YWCA causes and her multiracial vision was significant factors in propelling the organization into the modern world. Her work bringing together the various contingents of the YWCA around the globe led to her being named one of three women on the list of 100 people who helped build the United Nations. She started at the YWCA in 1935 at the Central Branch in New York City, working with industrial workers and a large program for unemployed girls. From 1941 to 1942 she worked with the YWCA USO program, setting up facilities for young workers in the expanding war industries in southern Connecticut. In 1942, Ms. Palmer was loaned by the YWCA USA to the YWCA of Great Britain. She travelled across the Atlantic in a troop ship. Once there, she became General Secretary of the YWCA of Manchester. She joined the staff of the World YWCA in 1945, working mainly with the YWCAs of Belgium and France as they were emerging from the intense difficulties of war and occupation. In one instance, two days after the German surrender, Ms. Palmer commandeered a troop carrier from the Army and drove it from Brussels to Utrecht, gathering delegates for a meeting at The Hague. A year later, in 1946, Ms. Palmer organized the first post war conference of young leaders and members of the YWCAs of Europe. After attending the World Council in Hangchow, China, in 1947 Ms. Palmer was appointed World YWCA Secretary for South East Asia, bringing the associations of South and East Asia closer to each other and into the world movement. Ms. Palmer returned to the World Office in Geneva in 1952 as Secretary for Interpretation and Finance, where she set up the financial structure for the organization. In 1955, Ms. Palmer was appointed General Secretary of the YWCA, a position that she held until retirement in 1978. In 1980 Ms. Palmer chaired the NGO Forum at the Second UN World Women's Conference in Copenhagen. She worked very closely with the World Council of Churches, and succeeded in shaping the YWCA as a worldwide ecumenical movement respecting diverse cultures, religions, and national contexts. Ms. Palmer moved to Pilgrim Place in 1988. She immediately immersed herself in the Pilgrim Place community, becoming active in the Beta Center and other committees. She was also the recipient of the Ecumenical Social Justice Award from the Human Relations Council of Pomona Valley. She had a voracious appetite for newspapers and histories. Her other interests included listening to music, and a lifelong interest in skiing, fly-fishing and golf. In addition to her native English, she also spoke French and Italian. At Pilgrim Place, Ms. Palmer was also known for her small dinner parties, believing that conversation over a well-prepared meal brought out the best in friendships. She was predeceased by a brother, Theodore.J..Palmer, of Cobalt, Conn Survivors include her cousin and goddaughter, Lucy G. Shepard, of Longmeadow and Dennis, Mass., cousins Thomas E. Gardner, of Providence, R.I., and Dennis, Theodore M. Shepard, of Duxbury, Mass., Frances E. Shepard, of Denver, Colo., Geoffrey H. Gardner, of Wayland, Mass., and Justin C. Gardner, of Bechtelsville, Penn. Contributions in her memory may be made to the World YWCA Elizabeth Palmer Fund, c/o World YWCA, 16 Ancienne Route, Ch-1218, Crand Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland. For more information about the fund contact [email protected]

Published in The Hartford Courant on Oct. 16, 2014
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