Successful oil and gas lawyer and philanthropist James S. Palmer is being remembered today by friends and peers as someone who was not only a leader in business, but had a vision for his community beyond the law.
Palmer, who was founder of Calgary-based law firm Burnet Duckworth & Palmer LLP died Aug. 27 at the age of 84 after an extended illness.
Despite having a difficult time breathing following the removal of a lung a few years ago, Palmer went into the firm’s office almost every day up until about three weeks ago, says colleague and BD&P chairman Harry S. Campbell.
“Jim had his own compass,” says Campbell who first met Palmer in 1973 and will deliver the eulogy for at his friend’s funeral today. “He knew what he thought was right and he acted on it; he didn’t follow. He had his own vision of what was proper and what was important. He just followed that compass and that led him to pursuing the things he thought were worthwhile and important.”
Palmer, who came from a family of lawyers from Prince Edward Island with roots going back to Confederation, believed that when one had success in business it was important to give back to the community to try and create a better world.
“Jim Palmer will be significantly missed by all of us in the Alberta legal committee and in the larger Alberta community,” says Joe Bradford, vice president, joint ventures and legal at CNOOC Canada Inc. “He set the gold standard for lawyers to follow in terms of integrity of practice and commitment to the community. Although I did not directly work on a matter with Jim, I cannot tell you how many times his name came up when we discussed ‘the right way’ to approach a legal issue.”
Among his many accomplishments, Palmer championed a new school of Public Policy at the University of Calgary that opened in 2009.
“I think he thought there might be ways we could give people in government better data in order for them to make their decisions and that public policy institutions could do research and come up with information that would help political leaders come to more informed decisions,” says Campbell.
A former governor and chairman of the Canadian Tax Foundation, Palmer was its first chairman from Western Canada. He was former chairman of Telus Corp. and served as a director of Magellan Aerospace Corp., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., and many others.
Palmer earned his BA from McGill University in 1948 and his LLB from Dalhousie University in 1952. He settled in Calgary in 1952 with his wife Barbara.
He practised general law with Petrie and Petrie and Texaco Exploration before joining Frank Burnet and Thomas Duckworth at the firm of Burnet Duckworth in 1955. The firm became known as Burnet Duckworth & Palmer, which became one of the most distinguished firms in Calgary, handling a large number of oil and gas transactions.
Campbell says Palmer and his best friend Angus Mackenzie — a legend in the oil and gas business — had “an amazing friendship.”
“They were partners and went into the international oil and gas business in the North Sea and then the Middle East and eventually all around the world, and they did very well,” says Campbell. “They were very, very successful in the international oil business.”
Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP partner Jack Thrasher knew Palmer and said: “Jim made an exceptional contribution as a member of the Canadian legal community. His influence touches so many areas — from a significant role in the development of the modern Canadian resource industry, to advising Canadian organizations active around the world, to the world of tax policy, to broader social policy deliberations on the fiscal and other roles of governments, to name but a few.”
He added that Palmer’s service as a director and in other governance roles in public and private corporations and his leadership in educational, professional, cultural and charitable institutions “is unparalleled.”
Palmer served as chancellor of the University of Calgary from 1986-1990 and was chairman of the school’s first major capital campaign from 1990-1993, where he assisted the university in surpassing the campaign’s $40-million goal. He also gave back to Dalhousie University, serving on the board of governors for many years and among other contributions, enhanced the law school facilities with the creation of the James and Barbara Palmer Wing of the Weldon Law Building in 2004.
Palmer was also a contributor to many charities including the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the United Way of Calgary, the Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity. He was recognized by many organizations over the years, receiving the Dalhousie University’s Weldon Award for Unselfish Public Service in 1993 and became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1998.
His funeral service at 1:30 p.m. today at Christ Church Calgary, 3602 8th St. S.W. in Elbow Park.