Elizabeth Palmer

Age 82 : Educator and outdoorswoman loved hiking and climbing mountains.

July 09, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN REPORTER

Elizabeth M. "Betsy" Palmer, a retired educator whose love of walking took her from a department store escalator to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, died Saturday of heart failure at Fairhaven Retirement Community in Sykesville. She was 82.

Elizabeth Machen was born in Baltimore and raised in Ruxton.

She was a graduate of the old Greenwood School in Ruxton and was a magna cum laude graduate of Mount Holyoke College, where she earned a bachelor's degree in French in 1947.

In 1948, she married C. Harvey Palmer Jr., who later became a professor of electrical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University.

From 1948 until 1958, Mrs. Palmer was a private tutor and substitute teacher in English at local private schools.

In 1958, after earning a master's degree in English from Hopkins, she became an instructor in remedial English at what is now Towson University. She retired in 1988.

"We were riding the escalator one day at Hutzler's in Towson in the 1950s, and she was complaining about one of her legs," recalled Mr. Palmer."After she had an operation, she decided she liked walking, and I decided I liked walking, too."

Charles H. Palmer III, of Roland Park, said his parents became "outdoor types and avid hikers" who traveled to places such as the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.

In 1981, when Mrs. Palmer was in her mid-50s, the couple climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, which soars 19,341 feet above northeastern Tanzania.

To build their stamina for the arduous climb, the couple became fixtures at the Gilman School track.

They took the Marangu route to the top of Kilimanjaro, staying in small huts as they made their way.

"It's a five-day round trip, and you actually hiked nearly 70 miles. We took a U.S. flag, a Baltimore city flag, a Maryland flag and a flag that said 'Quick & Dry Martini,' and I took a picture of Betsy holding them when we reached the top," Mr. Palmer said. "We brought them back and have displayed them in our home ever since."

The couple had a "close shave," as Mr. Palmer put it, when they were enveloped in a blinding snowstorm while climbing Galdhopiggen in Norway, Northern Europe's highest mountain.

Luckily, they encountered two students who helped them cross a glacier where a misstep would have resulted in a fall into a deep crevasse.

Mr. Palmer figures that through the years they hiked more than 3,000 miles, climbing mountains (six over 10,000 feet) in 14 countries on five continents.

Julia "Judith" Waxter and her husband, Bill, next-door neighbors in Roland Park, were frequent climbing companions.

"We did sections of the Appalachian Trail and hiked in Italy, Switzerland and Scotland," said Mrs. Waxter. "She'd pretend to be exhausted, but she was the most determined of the four of us."

A resident of Fairhaven since 1993, Mrs. Palmer had been a longtime volunteer.

She had volunteered with the Children's Aid of Maryland and at Rosewood State Hospital. She also had volunteered at the Woodbourne Center for troubled youths and served on its board and as president from 1962 to 1968.

Mrs. Palmer had been a member of the Maryland State Advisory Committee on Foster Care. From 1958 to 1994 she belonged to the Maryland Conference of Social Concern, a nonprofit organization that advocates justice for the disadvantaged.

She was a former communicant of St. David's Episcopal Church and St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m Friday in the chapel at Fairhaven, 7200 Third Ave.

Also surviving are a daughter, Helen P. Stevens of Portland, Ore.; a brother, Arthur W. Machen Jr. of Towson; and five grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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