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Editorial: Hank Palmer, public servant

The death of Hank Palmer casts a shadow over this holiday season for people who knew him through the years, and they cover several generations. From leading the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce in the 1960s to serving on the county commission in the 1990s and the ABC Board more recently, Palmer invested great time and energy into his adopted hometown.
He may have been born in Massachusetts, but Palmer’s heart was clearly right here in Salisbury and Rowan County.
Palmer was an executive with the chamber at a challenging time ó as Rowan weathered the loss of the Spencer Shops and all the railway jobs that went with it ó and was involved in the rebuilding of the county’s economic base.
He built a successful business ó Palmer’s Stationers, later Hank Palmer and Associates ó and in retirement turned to the volunteer job of being a county commissioner from 1988 to 1992. Those were contentious years for the board. In addition to dealing with the usual problems of jail overcrowding, school funding and economic development, Palmer and his fellow board members weathered the threat of a hazardous waste incinerator, a taxpayers’ revolt following revaluation, a landowners’ revolt as the county dared to talk about zoning ó which sometimes brought vicious personal attacks ó and even a debate over birth control.
Palmer’s approach to that last item was typical of his evenhanded approach to every issue. Someone had given the Health Department a grant to dispense a new kind of birth control, Norplant, to low-income women, and the Health Department needed commissioners’ OK. Fellow board member Newton Cohen didn’t like the idea at all. “I think the answer is to keep your pants zipped and maintain the family morals that this country was founded on,” he said. Like Cohen, Palmer was a Republican, but he was more moderate in his stance. “I’m all in favor of anything we can do to promote the idea of abstinence,” Palmer said, “but withholding Norplant is not going to do that.”
Cohen appreciated Palmer’s style. “He was a gentleman’s gentleman,” Cohen said earlier this week. “He was the same all the time.”
That went for Palmer’s other civic and religious involvements, as well ó a gentleman’s gentleman who was engaged and active, as long as his health allowed. His death last week at the age of 90 followed a prolonged period of failing health. In most people’s minds, though, he’ll be remembered for his upbeat manner and his positive involvement in many facets of community life.
“He was not all that much of a politician,” Cohen said. “… He was just an all-round good guy.” That might be the best compliment a former public official could receive.

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