December 2, 2015 — On a classic Southern California autumn evening in October, nearly one hundred people gathered on a rooftop patio overlooking Irvine to celebrate the colorful life of Robert E. Palmer. As the sun set, the ocean and Catalina Island on the horizon lit up in oranges and reds to the shared delight of the attendees. “This is exactly how he would’ve choreographed tonight,” a guest remarked.
Palmer passed suddenly almost a year before due to an illness contracted on a business trip overseas, and his death shook the Orange County legal community. On October 21, 2015, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Orange County United Way co-hosted an event to honor Palmer’s life and legacy as a partner at Gibson Dunn and Chairman of the Board of Directors at Orange County United Way.
Palmer graduated magna cum laude from Pepperdine School of Law in 1984, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Pepperdine Law Review. Palmer spent his legal career at Gibson Dunn’s office in Orange County. His excellence as an attorney and commitment to the firm helped open the door for many fellow Pepperdine Law alumni to follow in his footsteps. Among the Pepperdine Law alumni in attendance were Gibson Dunn partner Craig Millet (JD ’82), James Moloney (JD ’94), Julie Trotter (JD ‘00), Dustin May (JD ’11), and Matt Sessions (JD ’15). Other Pepperdine Law alumni in the Orange County Gibson Dunn office include Michele Maryott (JD ’97), Mary Lang (JD ’08), Michelle Camp (JD ’09), and Megan Cooney (JD ’13).
Newly appointed Orange County Judge Julie Palafox (JD ’83), Palmer’s first wife, delivered heartfelt words about her fond memories of Palmer. Judge Palafox said the two met his 1L year at Pepperdine Law because their lockers were next to one another. “Robert wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I finally married him,” Judge Palafox said. Though their marriage ended, the two remained good friends and had much love and respect for one another.
Among the many memories of Palmer shared at the event was his penchant for offering humorous gifts like toasters to all the summer associates whom he wanted to hire. Dustin May (JD ’11) also recalled Palmer insisting that May’s employment offer was contingent on him securing in-person interviews with then-Dean Ken Starr and a Pepperdine professor. When May found connecting with the busy Dean Starr to be a challenge, he received Palmer’s “help” in the form of a plaintive email asking Starr to “help a poor 2L try to get a job,” before Palmer finally revealed that he had staged the requests.
Palmer’s wife Nancy spoke of his joy for life and for others. Nancy and Robert were married in 2013 in a beautiful ceremony in Tahiti, and the two shared a zeal for living life to the fullest. Nancy also shared about her recent adventures around the world with Judge Palafox as the two remembered a man that had such a profound impact on both their lives.
Other members of the Orange County and Los Angeles legal communities took turns speaking about Palmer’s kindness, passion, and his skill as a litigator. Several local judges commented that they always loved seeing his name on the docket because they thought so highly of his professional skills and personable demeanor.
Palmer’s passion for life included a drive to address social issues in his community. Because of this passion, he joined United Way, and became one of their strongest and most beloved leaders. In his honor, United Way announced the dedication of the Robert E. Palmer Boardroom at the event.
Many of the attendees mentioned that Palmer’s memorial service last year was among the liveliest such events they had ever attended, with friends, former coworkers, and family sharing short stories on an open microphone. This event, in similar fashion, provided a night of toasts and fond memories.
Palmer’s obituary in the OC Register, available on the OC Bar Association website, closes by saying that Palmer was a “one-of-a-kind gift to all of us, to all the world.” Pepperdine Law Dean Emeritus & Senior Vice Chancellor Ron Phillips, who knew Palmer well, remarked, “He was someone whom you could not help but know if you were ever anywhere in his general vicinity, and that was a good thing for everyone. He left his mark on so many things, and so many people, myself included. I am grateful that he was ‘one of ours.’ ”
Pepperdine Law sends our best to his family, friends, coworkers, and the Orange County legal community, and we celebrate the example of Robert E. Palmer’s life: full of joy, integrity, excellence, and a great sense of humor.