It is with a heavy heart that William & Mary Theatre and Dance writes that Professor Emeritus of Theatre, Richard H. Palmer, died peacefully at his home in Williamsburg on Sunday, March 15, 2020.
Professor Palmer received his B.A. in English from Princeton University. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Speech and Theatre from the University of Iowa. He joined the faculty of William & Mary in 1980 as a Professor of Theatre and Speech, after teaching for sixteen years at Washington University in St. Louis and creating its Theatre Department.
Professor Palmer served the William & Mary community through his memberships on the Admissions Policy, Educational Media, Educational Policy (chair), Faculty Assembly (chair), Faculty Hearing, Library Advisory, Prizes and Awards (chair), Promotion, Retention and Tenure, Faculty Research, and Self‑Evaluation (decennial) Steering committees. He was a highly effective, long-standing member of the Department of Theatre, Speech, and Dance, having served as chair for over ten years, as Artistic Director of the William & Mary Theatre and General Manager of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival. He contributed to numerous important committees within the department and was involved in the hiring of every faculty appointment within the department since 1980. Professor Palmer served his profession as an officer of Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha of Virginia, on the Executive Board of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, as President and Vice President of the Virginia Theatre Conference.
In addition to numerous articles, he published six books: Tragedy & Tragic Theory, The Contemporary British History Play, The Lighting Art, The Critics Cannon, Aesthetics of Stage Lighting Design 2, and an online textbook Theatre: a Visual History. He was the Managing Editor of Theatre Annual, a Journal of Performance Studies, from 1996 through 2018. He directed 45 productions for the William & Mary Theatre and the Virginia Shakespeare Festival and designed another 20+ productions.
The major focus of Professor Palmer’s career was on his students. His passion for teaching remained undiminished over time and, in recognition of this excellence, he was awarded the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award in 2014. In a 2016 interview with The Daily Press, he remarked that “Students come with a lot of excitement about theater. But for most of them, it's been an extracurricular and recreational activity. It doesn't really occur to them that it's a particularly challenging intellectual process. So I think what I've always viewed my role is to make them think more about what they're doing, why they're doing it, how they're doing it, how it's been done before, how it might be done next time. It's to sort of bring a degree of intellectual engagement to what is essentially a creative process.”
Through his dedication, Professor Palmer developed generations of informed, imaginative, and energetic theatre practitioners, sending dozens of students forward to pursue advanced study. His generosity as a mentor and an academic advisor is well documented, and his high standards inform the work of his students and professional colleagues today. His former students are now teaching, writing, performing and creating theatre all over the country.
He leaves behind Becky, his wife of 58 years, children Virginia, Zachary, and Katherine, and eight grandchildren. The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Richard’s memory to the “Richard H. & Rebecca L. Palmer Scholarship in Theatre and Piano Performance Endowment.” Please make checks payable to the William & Mary Foundation and mail to William & Mary, Gift Accounting, P.O. Box 1693, Williamsburg, VA 23187. To make an online gift, please go to https://impact.wm.edu/rpalmer