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A Tribute To Robert E. Palmer

December 11, 1956 – September 4, 2014

A smile for all, a heart of gold,
The very best the world could hold,
Those we love do not go away,
They walk beside us every day.

We mourn the loss of our dear friend, Robert Palmer, who passed away on September 4. Robert was an esteemed partner in Gibson Dunn & Crutcher’s Orange County office for 30 years. It was through Gibson Dunn & Crutcher that he began his relationship with United Way thanks to a fellow attorney at the firm and a long-time supporter. In 2004, Robert helped to develop a leadership role in Orange County United Way through an affinity group called the Bench & Bar, where he later served as the chair. 

From the beginning, Robert was a strong advocate for United Way and the Tocqueville Society. Because of his passion and considerable powers of persuasion, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher became the top financial supporter among local law firms. His success as the Bench & Bar Co-Chair led Robert to Co-Chair the Tocqueville Society with Max Gardner, who eventually became the President & CEO of Orange County United Way. Thanks to their leadership, the proportion of Tocqueville Society members’ contributions to United Way’s Community Impact Fund increased to fifty percent of their total giving, due to various challenges and special appeals. During this time, Max and Robert’s relationship blossomed into friendship and they humorously referred to themselves as “Mutt & Jeff” when they made presentations at Tocqueville Society events.

Robert also helped to motivate other influential changes for the Tocqueville Society, including the Tocqueville Cabinet’s practice of making quarterly “thank you” calls to donors, the creation of an online reporting portal and United Way’s family-friendly volunteer projects. Robert believed that feeling genuinely appreciated lifted people up. No one could match his unique ability for making people smile and inspiring others to get more deeply involved. The Tocqueville Society Thanksgiving volunteer projects at Families Forward with his children became a favorite family experience.

Robert joined the United Way Board of Directors in 2006 and served as chair from 2012-2014. His intelligence, humor and heart-felt gratitude for the staff made him a favorite with the team at United Way. During the economic downturn, he personally hosted holiday and appreciation parties for the staff with fellow Board members. This heightened the collaborative attitude between staff and volunteers to create a dynamic working relationship. He gladly traveled to United Way Worldwide conferences where he represented the organization with members of the United Way staff, Board, and fellow then-volunteers, Max and Artyn Gardner.

In 2010, when Max served as Interim United Way CEO, Robert led “his campaign for Max” to convince him to enter the CEO search process. During this leadership change, Robert met with key Board members and staff to ensure a smooth leadership transition. As Chair of the Board, Robert helped to oversee the successful community engagement and planning process for United Way that led to the launch of FACE 2024, the 10-year action plan to address the most critical challenges facing local children and families.

While Robert took his role at United Way very seriously, he led every meeting with wit and often left people laughing and on occasion gasping—but always feeling that their contributions were valued. Robert added his signature flair to every project, whether it was planning an engaging Board retreat to leading the Board development committee to the recruitment of diverse and effective leaders. He not only knew how to deliver jokes using impeccable timing, he knew how to work the audience, as evidenced in his classic presentation style where he would toss out a script at an event, and without missing a beat touching on all the key points needed, much to the delight of the audience and the relief of the staff.

He always made us laugh. He made us think. We always shined brighter under his guidance. The inimitable Robert Palmer will be deeply missed by his loving wife and children, friends, colleagues and his United Way family.

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