J. Hambleton "Ham" Palmer, a retired consulting engineer who played a key role in the fair running of yacht races across the Chesapeake Bay, died of kidney failure Thursday at Ginger Cove retirement community in Annapolis. He was 90.
Yachting was Mr. Palmer's lifelong love. Besides sailing in his 25-foot yacht Half Hitch, he also measured boats for races, handicapped the vessels and judged their competitions for various local boating groups and the U.S. Sailing Association.
Mr. Palmer, who had lived in Pasadena and Severna Park, helped introduce racing rules to sailing competitions on the Chesapeake Bay.
"He was instrumental in guiding sailboat racing in Maryland," said William D. Paul, who founded the Magothy River Sailing Association with Mr. Palmer in 1974 and later followed him as president of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association.
Among boaters, friends and family said, Mr. Palmer was known for his fair mediation of racing disputes and his calmness on rough seas. When 30-knot winds knocked his boat on its side, he would merely utter, "Oh my," then right the boat.
"Every Wednesday, every Saturday, every Sunday we went out racing," said Eva Schmalbach Palmer, his wife of 19 years. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.
After founding an engineering firm, Palmer & Clark Associates Inc. in Timonium, Mr. Palmer designed the heating, cooling and other mechanical systems at the Johns Hopkins University's Milton S. Eisenhower Library, among other projects, family members said.
Fellow engineers turned to him for advice. He served as chairman of the local chapter of the American Consulting Engineers Council, and he held national positions with that organization and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Born in Milwaukee, John Hambleton Palmer quickly showed a predilection for his vocation and his avocation. At age 8, he converted the family rowboat into a sailboat using a broomstick and tent canvas.
Mr. Palmer studied engineering at Cornell University, enrolling at 16. Upon graduating in 1935, he took a job at a shipbuilding company in Newport News, Va., where he designed the piping on the USS St. Louis.
"He always said he had spent five days in the Navy because he was on the sea trials on the St. Louis," Mrs. Palmer said.
During World War II, Mr. Palmer served in the Army in Puerto Rico. He left active duty as a captain, and later retired from the reserves as a major, Mrs. Palmer said.
In his first job after the war, Mr. Palmer obtained 11 patents for General Electric Co. in New Haven, Conn. Within a few years, he moved to Maryland, where the family of his mother, Grace Hamilton Ober Palmer, had lived since the 1660s.
A memorial service will be held at 6 p.m. today at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Crownsville.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Douglas Hambleton Palmer of Edgewater and James Ober Palmer of Meadville, Pa.; three daughters, Susan Andersen of Des Plains, Ill., Grace Toyer of New Orleans and Margaret Smith of Baltimore; a brother, Charles Harvey Palmer of Sykesville; a sister, Curtis P. Chafee of Bryn Mawr, Pa.; and three grandchildren.