Palmer cemented her legacy in Brentwood history first as a passionate educator in the Brentwood Union School District and later as a civil servant, serving terms on Brentwood’s Planning Commission and City Council.
“She was a woman who couldn’t just stand by if there was something that needed fixing,” recalled daughter Anne Palmer-Martin. “If she thought there needed to be a change, she made her opinion known. She fought for what she believed in. She believed that if you wanted to see a change, you needed to be a part of the solution.”
A member of the Brentwood Women’s Club and Soroptimist, Palmer first made waves in the Brentwood political scene in the 1970s when she advocated for Brentwood’s first traffic light at Brentwood Boulevard and Sand Creek Road. She was concerned about how traffic flow would be impacted in conjunction with the opening of the Lucky Supermarket, Brentwood’s first large-scale grocery store.
“The town’s first traffic light was quite the controversy,” said former mayor Barbara Guise, who served with Palmer on the council. “Catherine was concerned about public safety with the increase of traffic to that end of town. There were a lot of people who didn’t want a traffic light. They were afraid of change. But Catherine had Brentwood’s best interests in mind. She always did.”
Palmer served as mayor from 1986 to 1990. She came to Brentwood in 1954 to teach grade school at Brentwood Elementary and eventually became the Brentwood Union School District’s literacy program coordinator. Named Citizen of the Year by the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce in 1987, she moved away several times but never stayed away for long.
“She loved Brentwood,” Palmer-Martin said. “She loved the community and the people. She had such a big heart. She was always the first person to offer help if anyone ever needed it. Friends, family, strangers – it didn’t matter. She never waited for things to happen. She made them happen.”
Former colleague and longtime friend Emil Geddes remembered Palmer as a vivacious woman with an inclination for spontaneity. “She was always up for having fun – always active,” said Geddes. “She was a caring, wonderful lady – a wonderful mother and a devoted teacher. She had a way with children. She loved teaching children how to read. She was a hero. She was completely dedicated to her kids.”
Palmer-Martin recently uncovered a box filled with notes and cards sent by Palmer’s former students over the years. The letters expressed gratitude for Palmer’s generosity and compassion as a teacher and mentor. “I know she was a great teacher and well loved by her students,” Palmer-Martin said, “but to read those notes … it was so touching to know how much she meant to so many people. She was really special. I’m biased, but the community knew it, too.”
Palmer is survived by her children Anne, Guy, Gary, Marihelen and Paul; and grandchildren, Ryan Anderson and Hayden Palmer. She was preceded in death by daughters Debbie and Lynne.
A memorial mass in Palmer’s honor will be held April 27 at 2 p.m. in St. Anne Church, 2800 Camino Diablo Road in Byron.