When the news came last week that John "Bud" Palmer had died of cancer in Florida at 91, hardly anyone in Colorado Springs knew enough to react.
But the New York Times provided a lengthy obituary, which should help those who don't understand the significance of Palmer's life. After all, he was a former network-level sportscaster, as the Times described, and he even helped shape the history of basketball. But he also spent a lot of time in the Springs visiting his sister and meeting others on his many visits. And it was many, as we'll get to later. First, though, let's remember Bud Palmer the media figure.
I remember, as a child, being mesmerized by Palmer's smooth demeanor as he covered the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif. He did CBS-TV play-by-play for men's ice hockey and the first Miracle on Ice, as the United States shocked the Soviet Union for the gold medal. The coverage might not have been as all-consuming as it is today, but Palmer still made a deep impression, which continued that summer when he helped with the Summer Games in Rome.
Four years later, working for ABC at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Palmer had arguably his biggest TV moment, calling the race when U.S. runner Billy Mills, a Native American from South Dakota, came from nowhere to shock the world in the 10,000 meters. Palmer later would help with ABC coverage of the Winter Olympics, continuing through 1998 in Nagano, Japan, in his late 70s.
But during the 1960s and '70s, Palmer was seemingly everywhere, covering major events at different times for all three networks. He was a fixture at Grand Slam tennis tournaments, including the U.S. Open; he worked many National Basketball Association and National Hockey League championships as well as all-star games; he covered stock-car races, most notably the Daytona 500 from 1979 through 2000; he worked many pro golf tournaments, the Kentucky Derby and the pro bowling tour. Along the way, he served as a host and producer for CBS Sports Spectacular and ABC's Wide World of Sports.
Palmer also made history in 1961 in Colorado Springs, doing play-by-play for the first network coverage of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the old Broadmoor World Arena. That became the prelude to tragedy, because all of the top American skaters perished a month later in a plane crash en route to the World Championships in Europe.
But even then, Palmer was no stranger to Colorado Springs. In fact, this was more like his second home.
His sister, Barbara (Bobbie) Shove Palmer Webb, lived in Colorado Springs until her death last year at 94. Because of physical afflictions, Bud couldn't make it here for his sister's funeral. But it was evident in a subsequent e-mail to Indy columnist John Hazlehurst, thanking him for writing about her (City Sage, Jan. 19, 2012), that Palmer clearly hadn't lost his other faculties.
"I think that I was five and Bobbie nine when we first visited my great uncle, Gene Shove, in the Springs. She later lived in the same house for sixty-five years and I visited almost every year. Uncle Gene and his great friends, Penrose, Tutt, Carlton, Dr. Gerald Webb and others gave Colorado Springs such a vital Western personality which my sister and I will never forget."
Palmer's ties to Colorado ran deeper. In the early 1970s, he moved to Vail and became one of the partners in developing that world-renowned ski resort. Soon thereafter, he was among the organizers of the state's first NHL franchise, known in the 1970s as the Colorado Rockies.
Palmer's obituary brought more surprises: He was a college basketball, soccer and lacrosse All-American at Princeton, where he was credited among basketball's pioneers of the jump shot. And in 1946, he became the first player to serve as team captain of the New York Knicks.
I never met Bud Palmer, though we covered plenty of the same events, and he never displayed the self-obsessed ego that many of his peers did. But he did come to Colorado Springs enough times to endear himself to many longtime acquaintances. Among those is our own Hazlehurst, who offers this thoughtful epitaph:
"He was such a wonderful man in every respect — a true aristocrat, a man without arrogance or false pride, who spent his life enriching the lives of those around him."