OBITUARY — John Nelson Palmer

Aspen Daily News Staff Report
Iconoclast to the last, one of Carbondale’s most intriguing personalities, John Palmer, died at his home Monday evening, June 15, after a long and courageous battle with cancer. According to his younger daughter, Aurora, among his last words were: “I can’t believe Keith Richards outlived me.” John was 62.

Born to Gunvor and Joseph Palmer on April 4, 1947, in Milwaukee he attended local schools and eventually graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a degree in political science and economics.

John moved to the valley in 1972 following a short career as a bellhop at the Playboy Hotel in Lake Geneva, Wis. Like many of the young migrants to the area in those days, he came for skiing and took a variety of ad hoc jobs to support his love of the sport: trash collector, cowboy, logger, busboy … whatever. Eventually he settled in Carbondale and worked as a hired hand at Rex Coffman’s ranch on Catherine Store Road and as a carpenter.

It was in the building trades that John found his professional calling and over the course of his adult life he worked as an independent contractor, served as a part-time building inspector for the town of Carbondale and, for many years, as a building materials salesman at Valley Lumber.

During his almost 40 years in Carbondale, John was part and parcel of the renaissance of his adopted home from backwater burg to the vital, diverse and progressive community its residents now enjoy. Volunteering for and promoting what are now local institutions such as the Carbondale Council on the Arts and Humanities, Mountain Fair and KDNK, he produced a variety of fundraising events ranging from masquerade balls and battles of the bands to the infamous Carbondale Talent Show. His tenure on the town’s board of trustees in the 1990s came at a crucial time in Carbondale’s development and he was instrumental in taking local politics in a new and responsive direction.

His marriage to his beloved ex-wife, Marge Palmer, in the early 1980s produced what John always called those “two beautiful girls,” his daughters Robin and Aurora, as well as a lifelong friendship with his stepson, Othar Lawrence. 

Following a diagnosis of terminal cancer in the summer of 2006, a kinder and gentler version of the acerbic John Palmer emerged from the ashes and he spent his last few years re-establishing relationships with his family, friends and loved ones including a son, Darin, of New York, whom he had fathered in Wisconsin in the early 1970s. 

John was very proud in these last few years of his work with Challenge Aspen, teaching and sharing his love of skiing with disabled skiers. He also volunteered for a stint in Mississippi helping in relief work following Hurricane Katrina. Taking the days as they came, he was able to enjoy road trips on his BMW motorcycle, a month in Argentina at a Spanish language school, a ride in a MIG-17 fighter jet and, just before death, a special trip to Israel with his “two beautiful girls.”

John Palmer is survived by his daughters Robin Palmer of Ft. Collins and Aurora Palmer of Carbondale and stepson Othar Lawrence of Carbondale. Additionally, he is survived by his parents, Gunvor and Joseph Palmer; sister Patty (Palmer) Mandela and brother Dave Palmer, all of Milwaukee.

No funeral services are planned, but the family will host a reunion of John’s friends and lovers on June 27 at the McIntyre Ranch on Prince Creek Road. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to may contribute to Challenge Aspen, the John Palmer Memorial Fund, P.O. box 6639, Snowmass Village, CO 81615.