Vail Daily obituary: Bud Palmer, early Vail resident
Ryan Summerlin March 24, 2013
John “Bud” Palmer, one of Vail’s early residents and a pioneer of television sports broadcasting, lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday and died in his West Palm Beach, Fla., home. He was 91.
Bud first skied Vail in 1965, and he was immediately enamored with the fledgling resort, buying an All Seasons condominium where he and his family came on frequent vacations to Vail.
“Bud loved Vail,” said Rod Slifer, who sold him that first Vail home. “He loved to entertain his friends, and was one of the most cheerful, upbeat people I’ve ever met – a real gentleman. Bud was so generous with his time, emceeing and auctioneering at countless local fundraisers.”
Staying at Gastof Gramshammer (Pepi’s) on that initial visit to Vail, a photo of Bud was one of the first celebrities to grace the wall of Pepi’s Bar.
“He was a celebrity when he first came to Pepi’s,” said Sheika Gramshammer. “But he soon became a cherished friend. We skied with him, shared his famous mountain picnics and enjoyed so many wonderful times together. I have such love and respect for him. He was an unforgettable person.”
Born in Hollywood, Calif., in 1921, Bud was the son of professional sportsman and silent movie star Maurice “Lefty” Flynn and Blanche Palmer. He attended the Le Rosey boarding school in Switzerland, the Hun School in Princeton and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy. While attending Princeton University, Bud distinguished himself as a world class athlete – a Division I All American in basketball, soccer and lacrosse. He remained active in alumni and athletic activities at Princeton until his death.
In December 1944, he joined the U.S. Navy and trained as a pilot in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he played for the Navy Air Corps basketball team. He flew B-52s in the Caribbean and learned to pilot a B-26 bomber, towing targets for fighter planes.
Following his Navy stint, he and Mary Le Blond were married in 1945, and Bud began his career as a professional basketball player with the original New York Knickerbockers a year later. He is one of the players credited for inventing the jump shot, and as the first captain of the Knickerbockers, he was their leading scorer during his three seasons on the team.
That same year, Bud became the first man to write, anonymously, the long running “Ask Jake” column for Glamour Magazine. He ran a children’s show for NBC and was also on a local show called “Globo’s Circus.”
Bud began his long sports broadcast career, calling the Knicks games on the radio. He graduated to television reporting, quickly moving on to network sports broadcasting, then in its infancy. He was a pioneer in national sports broadcasting, working for all three major networks through the years.
He covered the summer and winter Olympic Games, including the 1960 victory of the American men’s ice hockey team over the Soviet Union at Squaw Valley. He appeared in “The CBS Sports Spectacular” and then every weekend on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” where he helped Jim McKay get his start.
He was instrumental in getting women’s gymnastics included in Olympic coverage, as well as ski racing and hot dog ski competitions. Through the years he covered everything from golf to auto racing, to track and field, figure skating, and the Westminster Dog Show, to name a few. Bud received the National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences award for Achievement in Sports Programming for his broadcast of the 1968 Summer Olympic Games, when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their single black-gloved hands in the air to emphasize civil rights for African Americans.
In 1954, Bud married Daisy Dyer O’Donnell, with whom he found happiness and shared his life, until her death from cancer in 1977. Following Daisy’s death, Bud established the Daisy Golf Tournament in her memory, which continues today at the Eagle-Vail Golf Course. The event has raised close to $50,000 for the Vail Valley Medical Center. It will continue this summer, said Ann Mardis, who has kept the tournament going for 35 years, but it may become the Palmer Memorial Tournament.
After Bud left full-time broadcasting, he and Daisy moved permanently to Vail. They built one of the first homes in Eagle-Vail, a subdivision in which Bud was a partner in developing. His close friend, Art Kelton, remembers riding horses throughout the Eagle-Vail area with Bud.
“He was a wonderful friend and served as best man at our wedding,” Kelton said. “Bud was involved in so many ways in Vail. He helped raise funds for the Vail Valley Medical Center, he volunteered wherever he was needed for countless events and it was his suggestion to expand the annual Ski Classic to bring in the legend races.”
During New York City Mayor John Lindsay’s two-term tenure, Bud served as commissioner for public events, for which he was paid $1 a year. He was responsible for all ceremonial functions involving the city. He greeted dignitaries and heads of state, from Haile Selassie, “King of Kings” of Ethiopia, to Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel. He organized a ticker tape parade for the Apollo astronauts and a reception at Gracie Mansion for the Amazin’ 1969 Mets. Because of that association, Bud helped bring Lindsay to Vail for the Vail Symposium.
Once Bud was living full-time in Colorado, he was involved in the formation of the Colorado Rockies hockey team, among other business ventures. Throughout his life, Bud remained a skilled athlete, winning golf tournaments and expertly skiing the moguls and powder of Vail. He was a familiar figure, negotiating the moguls under the chairlift slowly and expertly, while whistling a tune.
For at least a decade, Bud would have a barrel of oysters – “Bud’s Oyster Feed” – shipped to Patrol Headquarters at the top of the mountain as a gift to the Vail Ski Patrol. An “American Sportsman” program was based around the Vail Ski Patrol, said Paul Testwuide, who served on the patrol for many years.
“Bud narrated and participated in that program on ABC,” Testwuide said. “It showed a day in the life of a ski patrolman, so Bud joined us in avalanche patrol, bringing accidents down the mountain and belaying him out of the Lionshead gondola 264 feet to the bottom. Bud epitomized what every man would like to be – a great mind, great athlete and always fun to be around. He’s one of those guys who did it all.”
That sentiment was echoed by his close friend Tom Apple, who credits Bud with helping him land his first head professional golf pro position.
“Bud is one of the most friendly, outgoing and considerate persons I’ve ever met, and served as best man in our wedding,” Apple said. “He was one of the great gentlemen.”
Bud married Bente Petersen in 1980, and moved to Lake Creek in Edwards, where he dedicated himself to the nurture of his ranch dubbed “The Palmerosa.” He built trout ponds, wildflower-covered berms and raised geese and turkeys. A common summer sight was watching Bud in his waders irrigating the fields of the Palmerosa and hosting lunches at the casita adjacent to his trout ponds. After a fire used to clear irrigation ditches on his property burned out of control, Bud earned the local nickname of “Bud Light.”
He moved to West Palm Beach in 1997, where he rediscovered cherished friends, and resided until his death. But he returned to Colorado every summer where he enjoyed attending Bravo concerts and the Vail International Dance Festival and reconnecting with his Vail friends.
Bud is survived by daughters, Lisa Palmer, of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Betty Landercasper (Jeff), of La Crescent, Minn., and Gene Palmer (Smitty), of New York; son John Palmer (Kim), of Miami; and grandsons Sam Landercasper, of Eagle, and Chris Landercasper, of St. Helena, Calif.
In lieu of flowers, it is suggested that donations be made to Hospice of the Valley, P.O. Box 1474, Edwards, CO 81632. An outdoor gathering to celebrate his life is planned for late summer.