William “Bill” R. Palmer, MD, MACR, passed away on Aug. 5, 2021, from highly aggressive, metastatic thyroid carcinoma. He was surrounded by his loving family. Continuing a lifelong pattern, he was courageous, dignified and loving through his last moments.
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Explore This IssueOctober 2021
I first met Bill on July 1, 1974—my first day of my medical internship at Albany Medical Center Hospital, New York. I was assigned to the emergency department where Bill was the first-year resident in charge of two interns. He quickly became our rock. Bill was confident, competent and caring. He made patients—and nervous interns like me—feel it would all be okay.
Bill brought out the best in us through a combination of a mature mentoring persona, humor, goodwill and know-how. He could be so darn humorous and affable that you could forget how smart he was. Born Sept. 5, 1948, he was the high school valedictorian and graduated Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) from the University of Nebraska School of Medicine, Omaha.
During my house staff contact with him, my medical residency and, again, in our shared fellowship program in rheumatology, Bill’s goodwill and positive personality could become contagious. At times, it was possible for those who didn’t know him to assume he was just a good guy whose waters did not run deep. Maybe he was just assuming a role to impress? But Bill was not capable of role-playing. He was the ultimate straight-shooter. You couldn’t work alongside Bill without admiring his uncommon collection of life skills. He was, simply stated, fortunately arranged and conceived in the cauldron of genetic design.
Service & Passion
Bill was the first board-certified rheumatologist in Omaha, where he spent his entire 43-year clinical career. For decades, residents, physician assistants and nurse practitioners from the University of Nebraska program rotated with him at his office.
He found time to serve on several ACR committees and the board of the Rheumatology Research Foundation, receiving the honor of Master of the ACR. He volunteered on the Board of the Nebraska Medical Association and the Nebraska chapter of the Arthritis Foundation. He was a trustee of a charitable giving foundation. Bill was universally respected for his wise, even-handed, considered and positive approach to difficult challenges, both personal and professional.
Bill savored his annual fishing trips to Canada with his son and brother. He was a die-hard Cornhusker fan. I once had the privilege of accompanying him to a Husker game in Lincoln, Neb., and I will never forget the experience. It’s passions like these that define and drive the best in people as they clearly did for Bill.
William Palmer would never speak for the sake of hearing his own voice. If he offered an opinion, it was invariably thoughtful, cogent and on target. He could process a variety of challenging and divergent themes that may not have readily come together for others. His approach was always gloriously workable and pragmatic. He would apply his innate sense of what made people tick to workable solutions in medicine—and life—in general. Bill had a gift for separating what mattered from what did not.
Sometimes things can get lost in the weeds for most of us. Bill was rarely in the weeds. As has been said of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, “He was the one you wanted in charge in the module. He will keep his calm, figure it out and get you back alive.”
That was Bill.
Comments from Bill’s patients reflect their tangible sense of good fortune in having him as their rheumatologist. He’s described as “a beautiful and generous soul.”
“[Dr. Palmer] was my dedicated and attentive doctor, always with a smile and a corny joke,” says one of his patients.
Another notes, “He made me fight, he made me strong, and he made my disease not so scary.”
“We shared so much laughter and so many tears,” says a patient.
Bill could frequently give it to you straight, and his approach was sometimes tough love. His patients tell us: “He always greeted me with a hug, but would kindly chew my a** when I needed it.”
“He was tough and honest, but yet he cared beyond measure. I loved him,” says another.
“It is so hard to imagine living with my disease without Dr. Palmer,” notes yet another.
Bill was respected, admired and loved by all who knew him. He was the genuine article, unencumbered and undiluted by what really doesn’t matter in this life. I am a better person for having known and collaborated with Bill for the past 47 years.
He leaves behind his beautiful, loving wife and life partner, Leslie; two daughters, a son and four grandchildren.
Bill Palmer cared. It was real and unmistakable. You could touch it and feel it. We all saw in him the best of what a professional can be. The precious memory of this gifted, generous individual should be a source of continued solace to his family, patients and friends.
Joel M. Kremer, MD, is the founder and president of the Corrona (now CoreEvitas) registry, and president of the Corrona Research Foundation, a not-for-profit research foundation, Albany, N.Y.