BD&P Mourns Loss of Its Founder


It is with profound sadness that BD&P recognizes the passing of our founder, James S. Palmer, on Tuesday, August 27, 2013. Jim's funeral service was held at Christ Church in Calgary on Tuesday, September 3rd and the offices of BD&P were closed  in his memory.

With roots back to the Fathers of Confederation, his great-grandfather a Father of Confederation; Jim loved this country from East to West. Jim earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill University in 1948 and his LLB from Dalhousie University in 1952. Jim settled in Calgary in 1952 with his new wife, Barbara, joining Frank Burnet and Thomas Duckworth in the practice of law in 1955. Jim became partner the following year and the firm became known as Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer for the first time. As leader of the firm, Jim was instrumental in the growth and success of BD&P as it grew to its current position of leadership among Canadian law firms. Jim often complemented Frank Burnet as “one of the finest legal minds in Western Canada” and the reason Jim joined the firm. Many would say the same of Jim. He became a leader in business and international law, as well as tax, and was instrumental in the development of the oil and gas industry in Alberta through his service as a governmental adviser for many years. With his interest in tax, Jim was a former Governor and Chair of the Canadian Tax Foundation and was its first Chair from western Canada. He was former Chair of Telus Corporation and served as a Director of Magellan Aerospace Corporation, Canadian Natural Resources Limited and many others.

Education was never taken for granted by Jim and he ensured he contributed to the education of countless others by his leadership roles and his philanthropy in the academic world.  Jim served as Chancellor of the University of Calgary from 1986-1990, Member of the Board of Governors from 1986-1990 and Chair of the University of Calgary’s first major capital campaign from 1990-1993, where he assisted the university in surpassing the campaign’s $40 million goal.  Jim and Barbara made a significant financial contribution to the University of Calgary in 1994, establishing the James S. and Barbara A. Palmer Chair in Law and Public Policy. Jim was recognized by the university with the establishment of the James S. Palmer Lecture Series in 1995. Jim was also very generous to Dalhousie University, serving on the Board of Governors for many years and among other contributions, greatly enhancing the law school facilities with the creation of the James and Barbara Palmer Wing of the Weldon Law Building in 2004.  Honourary degrees were bestowed upon Jim from the University of Prince Edward Island, the University of Calgary and Dalhousie University and he was awarded the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education, Friend of Education Award in 2008. 

Arts and culture always featured prominently in Jim and Barbara’s life and they have been committed patrons of numerous organizations. Jim at various times was President and Director of the Calgary Philharmonic Society, Director of the Council for Business and the Arts in Canada, Member of the Honourary Patrons Council of Theatre Junction, Trustee of the Royal Academy of Arts Foundation, Director of the CBC Radio-Canada and National Director of the Fathers of Confederation Building Trust.

Jim’s belief in a caring society and his dedication to his broader community were cornerstones of his life’s philosophy.  Many social organizations benefited from Jim’s generosity, including the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the United Way of Calgary, the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity.

Jim’s varied and numerous contributions have been recognized with a number of honours.  He received the Dalhousie University’s Weldon Award for Unselfish Public Service in 1993, became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1998 and was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the Law Society of Alberta and the Canadian Bar Association in 1999. Jim was also awarded the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2003, the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005 and was inducted into the Calgary Business Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2012, Jim was awarded the Lexpert Zenith Award, recognizing change agents for 40 or more years in the legal community, the Calgary Philharmonic’s Golden Baton Award and the Peter Lougheed Award for Leadership in Public Policy in recognition of exceptional Western Canadian public policy leaders with a national impact.

Jim was blessed with 4 daughters – Valerie, Jane, Noelle and Sarah - and so in addition to Barbara’s unfailing support and presence in his life; Jim was never missing the female perspective on an issue. He held family dearly and spoke often of his daughters many accomplishments and the pleasure he derived from his grandchildren. 

Jim  is remembered by many people for many things but perhaps among the most widely known of Jim's passions, besides his family and his community, was his love of nature and the outdoors which encompassed, in particular, the water and beaches of  Prince Edward Island and the mountains at his doorstep here in Calgary. Jim was an avid hiker and skier, taking to the mountains whenever time allowed and looked forward every summer to travelling back to P.E.I. to his summer place and precious family time.Jim was respected by people in many walks of life and of all ages and was a mentor and inspiration to many. 

BD&P extends its sincerest condolences to Jim's family, friends and colleagues.

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