I can’t say that I knew Palmer McGee particularly well. But I was saddened to read of his passing last month at the age of 93.
My first knowledge of Palmer (or Mr. McGee as I tried to call him early on) came from my mother. Palmer served as Town Attorney in Farmington, Connecticut for many years and helped provide counsel to my mom who was an employee in town at the time. My mother described him a thoughtful and kind man. (Upon his passing, she updated her view with “what a lovely man!” too).
He had a house up at Lake Ninevah in Vermont, not far from where my parents had a ski cabin. And he talked first with my mother, and then me, about how pretty the area was and I learned later of his preservation efforts there.
When I became a law student, he offered to talk with me about the practice of law. It wasn’t a long conversation, but it remains vivid to me because I remember being a bit overwhelmed by his stature. He had practiced law for over 40 years and had such a gentleman-ly demeanor about him. He would have none of it, but it was hard for a student like me to see how someone could have such a long and successful practice like him. He counseled studying hard and said that when I was ready, he’d be happy to forward my resume on to someone at his firm at the time, Day, Berry & Howard.
That time came late in the summer of 1993 shortly before the start of my second year of law school. No one from the firm would visit my school for an on-campus interview, but I believe that Palmer helped get my resume noticed so that I could get a legitimate job interview for a summer position. I flew out to Hartford (I was in law school at St. Louis at the time) and he scheduled me to stop by his office to say hi and offer a warm welcome.
I got that summer position at Day, Berry & Howard in 1994 and it started me on a career that, twenty years later, remains a passion to me.
Palmer always held himself out as a professional. I have no idea if that’s the case; after all, most of his 40+ year career was done long before I started at Day, Berry & Howard. But when I joined the firm, he talked about how enjoyable the practice of law and working at the firm was. He gave a bit more of some simple advice to me: Work hard and don’t forget to treat the practice of law as a profession.
We didn’t have a lot of interaction during my further years at DBH. He retired to Florida soon after I joined the firm. He went on to write his memoir in 2005. But his impact on my career is something I’ll forever be thankful for — even if it was small to him.
I moved on from DBH several years later and DBH became Day Pitney. There’s no mention of Palmer on that law firm’s website, but his former DBH colleagues had some very kind words to say about him in a revealing profile on the Hartford Courant.
His son had this to say about him: “He tended to be a conciliator who tried to find a common ground even in an adversarial setting.” That’s a terrific skill to have.
I’m grateful that Palmer showed me a small sliver of that approach and the benefit of helping others in the profession. And thankful that my life was touched in a gentle way by him.