Emeritus Professor of Economics Hans C. Palmer, a former dean of the College and a member of the Pomona faculty for 46 years, died on May 26. He was 89.
Palmer devoted his entire professional career to students at Pomona College. He taught during five different decades, served for three years as vice president and dean of the College, and became for many on this campus the quintessential Pomona professor: erudite, witty, supportive and demanding. Palmer also was a longtime promoter of international initiatives at the College, and was a leader of the Pacific Basin Institute after its move to Pomona College in the late 1990s.
A four-time winner of the Wig Distinguished Professor Award, Palmer is remembered by students for always pushing and prodding them to give their very best. “He wasn’t letting me off the hook,” Emeritus Chair of the Pomona College Board of Trustees Stewart R. Smith ’68 once said. “A B-plus wasn’t good enough if I could do better—and that was one of the best things that could have happened to me.”
In anonymous nominations for the Wig Award, one student praised Palmer’s exacting standards for writing. “It was painful at the time, but receiving paper after paper marked up beyond recognition did quite a bit towards pushing me to a clearer and more concise writing style,” the student wrote. Another commented, “Professor Palmer simply knows everything…but that’s not why the students love him. Professor Palmer really draws the best out of his students, always asking that third or fourth question that takes discussion to a whole new level.”
A native of New York City, Palmer came west for college, earning his B.A. and M.A. from UC Berkeley. After two years of service as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, he returned to Berkeley to earn his Ph.D. He joined the Pomona faculty in 1962, rising to the post of full professor of economics—with the endowed titles of Stedman-Sumner Professor of Economics and W.M. Keck Distinguished Service Professor—as well as serving as chair of the Economics Department.
Taking on the role of dean of the college in 1998, Palmer led the academic program through the creation of a new department in linguistics and cognitive science and a number of major academic construction projects, including the new Andrew Science Building and renovations of Bridges Hall of Music and Seaver Laboratory for Chemistry, now known as Seaver North. After completing his tenure as dean in 2001, Palmer returned to his first love, teaching economics, and continued his work for the Pacific Basin Institute until his retirement from Pomona in 2008.
Palmer’s research focused mainly on the economics of health care issues and the economies of Eastern European nations. Among the honors he received for his work were a John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Faculty Fellowship. He was a member of the American Economic Association, Association for Health Services Research, Economic History Association, Economic History Society of the United Kingdom, History of Economics Society and Association for Comparative Economic Studies.
Both his philosophy of life and his philosophy of teaching are perhaps best encapsulated in a quotation from the Convocation speech he gave upon assuming the mantle of dean: “Above all, keep our sense of humor and lighten up. Learning and teaching can be hard work, but they also should be sources of joy in the best sense. If they are not, we have missed something very precious, and all our attainments may be meaningless.”
Palmer is survived by his wife Beverly, daughter Margaret Woodruff and son David, as well as five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by an infant daughter, Jane, in 1967.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on June 28 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia. A gathering in Claremont is being planned for later this year.