Jim Palmer, of Cowley, Alberta, passed away peacefully on May 28th, 2020, at the age of eighty. He had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer only shortly before, but was able to spend his last days and final moments with his family, who loved him more than they know how to say.
Jim lived with enormous gusto, and by the time he was done he’d seen enough of this beautiful world to last several lifetimes. Beauty was something that was very important to him, and he held the making of art as a mystical calling. In one of the little black notepads he always carried in his overstuffed breast pocket, which contained his thoughts both enormous and practical, we recently found a scribbled slogan that pretty much sums up his whole philosophy: “Art is God, and painting is prayer.” He was many, many things – cowboy, naval officer, veteran, translator, teacher, linguist, writer, adventurer, mountaineer, PR flack, journalist, musician, activist, pilot, and Slavophile, but most of all, and through it all, he was a servant to the spirits that live in mountains and trees and clouds and grass, that when summoned with the right kind of humility would take possession of his hands and paintbrush, and through them capture on canvas a glimpse of the vast cosmic vitality that moves the wind and waves.
For many years he lived to climb mountains, and when the peak had been reached, and he came bounding back down the scree into the sweeter air of the valleys below, he would bellow funny old folk songs just for the sheer joy of it, in any one of the flabbergasting number of languages he spoke. One of his favourites was Mein Vater war ein Wandersmann, My Father was a Wanderer, and it was true for him and is true now for us, his children. He did not rest for long in one place, physical or metaphysical, because there was always something wondrous on the horizon, a world he had not yet discovered. Born in Kansas, he lived in Texas, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New England, Alberta, Greece, France, Vietnam, and Québec, and was educated at Lawrenceville and McGill and in Paris. In later years, realizing that the place he’d known as a young man had become the most exotic and fascinating place he could think of, he built a solitary house buffeted by wind on a quarter section he called Weatherfield. Out on the rolling hills and blasted prairies of southern Alberta, overlooked by the Livingstone Range, where the sun glows through the gathering storms like the light of heaven, its view was his companion until he breathed his last breath.
He was a charismatic man, a storyteller of the finest calibre. He was married to Marilyn Palmer, mother of Judd, and then Catherine Hankins, mother of Andrea and Thaea, and dearly adored his partner in his last years, Anja van der Heijden. He was the oldest brother of Byron, Scott, and Tom, who held him in the highest esteem, and shared in many of his most marvellous moments. He was a beloved brother-in-law to Sybil, Shannon, and Laura, uncle to Melissa, Nina, Sarah, Rob, Dave, JC, Julia, Will, and Oona, father-in-law to Dylan, Aidan, and Mercedes, and grandfather to Austin, Ally, Eli, Margo, and Max. He was a teacher, willing to share the secrets of his art with any willing student, and he was a great lover of fairness, a believer in old democratic ideals, and a protector of the land he so loved.
To Thaea Lockwood, Andrea Henderson, and Judd Palmer, he was the finest father we could have wished for. He was wise, and wild in the best of ways; his adventures were our adventures, and he was generous with his praise and exuberant in his pride in us. He made us believe we could do anything, partly because he actually could do anything, and was a living example that fanatical enthusiasm, combined with a willful romanticism, can fill all your given days with signs and wonders, both grand and glorious.
He deeply loved being alive, and there will not be another like him to walk this earth. He was dearly, dearly loved, and he will be sorely, sorely missed.
Because of COVID-19 precautions, the funeral was a small graveside gathering of close family, and took place on June 3rd. He is buried at the Livingstone Cemetery just north of Cowley, in view of the mountains and visible from his house. Those who wish may make a donation in his honour to the Lebel Mansion/Allied Arts Council in Pincher Creek, CASA Art Gallery in Lethbridge, the Crowsnest Pass Public Art Gallery, or another charity of their choice.
To send flowers to Jim's family, please visit our floral store.