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Raymond A. Palmer


MLA Executive Director February 1981-December 1991

Raymond (Ray) A. Palmer, MLA’s former executive director, passed away unexpectedly in November 2011. In 2012, the MLA Oral History Committee undertook an effort to compile information highlighting Ray’s contributions to MLA and the profession, as well as anecdotal information about his life. 

The following information is a collection of thoughts and memories that members, colleagues, and staff have provided about Ray.

From the May 2012 MLA News: "Palmer served as MLA’s executive director from February 1982 through December 1991. A longtime MLA member, Palmer served the association in a variety of positions prior to becoming executive director. He was chair of the Legislation Committee and an active member on many education and certification committees, the MLA/NLM Liaison Committee, the 1982 National Program Committee, and the Bibliographic and Information Services Assessment Committee. Palmer also served as a health sciences librarian at Wright State University; as an assistant librarian at the Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard University Medical School; and as administrative assistant to the director at Welch Medical Library, Johns Hopkins Medical Institution."

The following was prepared for Ray’s November 26, 2011, memorial service

Ray could be described in various ways.

  • As a librarian he was professional, creative, and dedicated to providing the best services to the faculty, staff, and students in his institution. He served in several libraries and in each he was interested in staff members and their needs, in the buildings in order that they have beauty as well as utility, and the users who needed resources, quiet study places, and friendly people to consult.
  • As an executive director, he was a leader. At MLA he hired skilled staff and set high standards for staff performance and high standards for the association. He brought new goals to MLA and under his leadership he reorganized headquarters, revamped the finances, and introduced new services. He gave his support to dozens of presidents, board members, and any member who needed his help and advice.
  • As a friend, Ray was steadfast and loyal. He suffered if you sorrowed, rejoiced if you had success. He loved life and the companionship of his dogs. He enjoyed literature and music, expressing his talent as a counter-tenor in the church choir. Ray was fond of his home town, the city of Chicago, travel, and good food. All who were privileged to know him or work with him were enriched by his friendship.

The following memories were contributed by MLA members, friends, and colleagues

  • This is very sad news! Ray changed the association, professionalizing it and making it so much easier for the officers and the board to function. Many of his ideas have been so incorporated into the MLA DNA that we don’t even remember where they came from. He was a bright light for the association, and I can’t imagine doing all that we did without him.
  • Ray was very dedicated to the profession and to MLA. Even though it has been about 25 years since I was on the board and worked with him closely, it seems just like yesterday and I remember fondly our Louisville connections as well as our marathon MLA strategic planning sessions. He was a great personal help to me while I was president. He will be missed.
  • Ray was so wonderful to work with and has been such a mainstay of MLA.
  • Ray was a strong mentor who enabled me to understand the governance structure and programs and services of the association and contributed to my success as a member of the MLA staff.
  • This memory starts with a memory about me and moves to Ray. I had been the Director of the Medical Library at the University of Cincinnati since 1972. Ray Palmer moved from Boston to Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio approximately 50 miles north of Cincinnati, Ohio. Ray was active with the Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan Regional Medical Library program and we had many opportunities to work together. We would meet in Lebanon, Ohio, at a most wonderful restaurant for lunch. Lebanon, Ohio, was half way between Dayton and Cincinnati and we would collaborate from two medical libraries. I was elected as the MLA incoming president and served that role from 1981 to 1982. I was the MLA president from 1982–1983 and the past president (1983–1984). Charles Sargent from Texas was the president of the Medical Library Association during the 1981–1982 time period. One of the crises that he faced was the loss of our MLA executive director. Since I was the incoming president, Charlie and I spent hours brainstorming on possibilities for either advertising, recruiting, etc., the next executive director.

Because of personal contact with Ray, I suspected that he might be amenable to an approach for something new in a city much larger than Dayton, Ohio. I did approach Ray and again spent many hours talking about MLA, Ray, his future planning, etc. It seemed that having a person who had been in libraries for a number of years as the executive director would give the Medical Library Association a strategic advantage of the director knowing what the profession was about, the passion and the pitfalls of the profession. One of Ray’s biggest concerns was not could he fulfill the role of executive director, but what would happen when he was no longer the executive director. Could he return to the medical library world? After thinking about this and talking with many people, Ray Palmer applied for the executive director position of the Medical Library Association and the board, after an interview, appointed him as the MLA executive director.

  • Ray was the assistant librarian at the Countway Library of Medicine when I entered the library field during the early 70s. Countway was my first position—a library support staff member. After a couple of years, I was accepted at the Emory University School of Librarianship in Atlanta, and left to pursue my education. Ray was very influential in my professional decisions. When I first began at Countway, he was a bit feared by most of the support staff who thought he was standoffish and critical. However, after a while, I started to interact with him and realized that this was a front, and guessed that he was feeling his way through his first “real” position, and was a bit nervous most of the time.
  • A specific memory relates to the holiday wreath that was always hung with great ceremony on the atrium wall facing the library’s entrance. I often commented about the worn condition of the wreath and mentioned this to Ray. During my second holiday at Countway, Ray gave me $50.00 for a new wreath. I was pleased to select one and as a support staff person this made me feel accepted. After this incident through Ray’s encouragement I decided to apply to school and pursue a career in libraries. By the way, the wreath was a huge success and received many compliments, I imagine for several years to come.
  • My favorite memory of Ray Palmer was very early in my career as a health sciences librarian, I think in early fall 1973 when I had just moved from my year of library associate training into a staff position in Medlars Management at the National Library of Medicine. With MLA board approval Ray had contracted with a Hollywood film producer to shoot a short promotional film about the good work being done in health sciences libraries by librarians. I learned about this only when Bill Caldwell, who was NLM’s associate director for library operations at the time, came to me one day saying that they needed me to play a small part in the film . . . I would be paid $1.00 and would need to go to the Washington Hospital Center where the film crew and Ray were setting up the scene. I didn’t need to rehearse or change my clothes or anything—just get over to the hospital!

    When I got there Ray introduced himself and the film crew and told me that for this scene they needed a librarian (me!) to be sitting at a Texas Instruments terminal ready to start a Medline search for a doctor (an African American female they had also just recruited for the role). Ray also told me I was chosen because they wanted atypical people to play the two roles (rather than the usual female librarian and male doctor). So the director proceeded to pose the two of us, me sitting at the terminal with my hands on the keyboard and the doctor leaning over my shoulder. Then as they started filming us, Ray or the director (I can’t remember which) asked me to say something as if I was thinking about how to formulate a search for the doctor who had a patient with hepatitis. So without really thinking, I just blurted out “I think we have a term for hepatitis” and that was just about all there was to my part in the film! I don’t think there were any retakes and Ray thanked me politely and I went back to my regular work at NLM.

    That next spring I attended my first MLA conference in San Antonio (1974) and found out that Ray had arranged for the premiere showing of the film, now titled “Rx Information,” to be shown at the meeting. I missed the actual premiere because of some conflict I had with something else happening at the same time. But it was soon clear to me that my scene was definitely included in the film because people I didn’t know kept coming up to me with a big smile quoting my line (“I think we have a term for hepatitis.”), or they would ask if they knew me from somewhere . . . Even Sam Hitt, who was president or president-elect that year, and who I only knew by reputation, cornered and hugged me in an elevator one day saying, “My son the movie star!” The film, though somewhat controversial in MLA circles because of its high cost, went on to have a long life and was purchased by many libraries. Ray and I would kid each other about it at MLA conferences for years afterward.

  • Before the meeting in Montreal (1981), the executive director gave her resignation, the education director resigned as did her assistant, and the financial officer died. I was to become president! The search committee’s candidates were not acceptable to the board so I appointed the Executive Committee to do a search. Lucretia (McClure) suggested Ray and we went to interview him. I, as well as the rest, were impressed. I offered him the position and he accepted. During my term, we worked well together. He was both cordial and constructive. He invited the Board to his home in Chicago (an old but elegant apartment) at mid-winter (or spring). I would say that he saved MLA at a crucial time. He gathered a good staff that functioned well. I must thank Lucretia McClure for her recommendation of Ray. Of course, I had known Ray for many years as a colleague.
  • Ray was a highly organized person and his early accomplishments for the Medical Library Association were to look at the office and see what could be organized. One of the first items that the Board authorized was his request for more “automation” inside the office to take care of some of the paperwork and processing that was needed. For example, one of the MLA traditions was counting the ballots for the MLA presidency and board. Everything was mailed to the office and on a Saturday, post a board meeting, as many people as possible would gather to count checkmarks and check, double check, and recheck the ballots for the selection of the president and board members, and of course any other issues that were on the ballot. I personally remember the stories of people saying that it took seven, eight, and nine hours to do this. During my year as president when we had to count the numbers and verify and verify again, it seemed like such a waste of time/effort. One of Ray’s first “automation” items was to have a ballot where you could use optical scanning. Therefore we could send out the ballots to be read and the verification for accuracy came from the company as opposed to volunteer members. The cost was probably less for optical scanning then for extra hotel nights and food, etc., for the members that stayed over to count ballots, but then again an MLA “tradition” was gone!
  • In the early 1980s, there were many opportunities to have the association both more internally organized and fiscally sound. Ray contributed substantially to the organization of the Medical Library Association. During this period we were very active with creating a strategic plan and looking at the role of librarians doing research within our profession and what that would mean. Ray was active not only with the administrative side of the Medical Library Association, but he contributed substantially to the content of what the profession could be doing and its future direction.
  • When I was appointed deputy director at NLM one of the first people I met in MLA was its executive director, Ray Palmer. I found Ray to be very easy to work with and interested in finding a way to get medical librarian concerns more visible in the halls of Congress. He remembered the history of when NLM and Medical Library Assistance Act legislation had been introduced and the significant part leaders of the past like Janet Doe, Mary Louise Marshall, Fred Kilgour, Estelle Brodman, Al Brandon, and others effectively participated in realizing the passage of these landmark laws (1965). He asked what could be done to strengthen MLA in its government relations efforts. I introduced him to a health lobbyist, Bradie Metheny, at the Monocle Restaurant, a well-known spot on the Hill where the power brokers often met. Bradie and Ray hit it off and soon Bradie was working with MLA conducting instructive sessions for association members interested in government relations. Ray’s dedication to this effort made all the difference in fostering this as an active part of MLA’s agenda. The rest is history as a renewed effort in this regard flourished and has continued to expand, all to the benefit of both the medical library community and the programs of the NLM.
  • Ray was the executive director during my tenure as president of MLA. He was very supportive and it was a delight to work with him. We had known each other before he became executive director as MLA colleagues. MLA was fortunate that he was willing to step into the exec director role because as an experienced medical librarian, he brought relevant experience and insight as he switched careers.
  • One of Ray’s early worries was what would he do when he was no longer the executive director of the Medical Library Association. I do not know what happened in the later years as once my presidency was over, you move on with your life and while I stayed in touch with Ray on a periodic basis, I was not aware of some of the internal issues to the Association. I do not know why Ray left the Medical Library Association, but I do know that his early concern of what would he do when he was no longer in that role came out at this particular moment and it appeared that he now planned to take the association route in the future rather than trying to go back to the medical library world. I do know he went to Washington, DC, as an executive director for several organizations and that he had a number of successes. The person who would be the closest to him and how his life unfolded would be Lucretia McClure. Thank you for this opportunity to remember interactions with Ray Palmer.

An obituary highlighting Ray’s professional and personal accomplishments, including his work as MLA’s executive director, was published in the October 2012 Journal of the Medical Library Association