Ambassador John N. Palmer, legendary philanthropist, entrepreneur and national leader, was honored as the recipient of the 2023 Legacy Award, presented yearly by the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy (OMWC).
The Legacy Award reception, dinner and presentation was Saturday, April 15, at The Inn at Ole Miss on the University of Mississippi campus. Bruce Levingston, internationally renowned concert pianist and recording artist, was the featured performer.
In 2010, the Women’s Council initiated the Legacy Award to acknowledge and thank exemplary people whose lives have reflected the values and tenets of the OMWC: philanthropy, leadership, scholarship and mentorship. The chosen honorees have made many valuable and important contributions in each of these areas and a positive difference in Ole Miss, Mississippi and the nation.
“Throughout his extraordinarily accomplished life, Ambassador Palmer has exemplified the tenets of the Women’s Council and served as a quintessential model for using his success to serve our greater society and advance communities, especially Ole Miss,” said Suzan Thames, chair of the 34-member Women’s Council. “John’s remarkably generous track record extends through support of the arts, education, technology, athletics and health care.”
Palmer’s monumental impact in the field of health care is evidenced by his role in the establishment of the MIND Center (Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia) at UMMC, which does evaluation, research and clinical care in Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
“His involvement has been the driving force behind the MIND Center’s explosive growth and advancement in this field,” Thames said. “Additionally, when John committed to keeping his global telecommunications business, SkyTel, in Mississippi, he made significant contributions to the state’s economic development.”
Now a resident of Jackson, Mississippi, Palmer grew up in Corinth, Mississippi. He attended Ole Miss on a basketball scholarship and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in accounting. After serving in the U.S. Army, he returned to UM to earn his Master of Business Administration degree.
Palmer began his professional career as a CPA. However, it wasn’t long before he began using his skills to become a telecommunications pioneer. By 1973, he had merged nine paging companies in the South with a New York firm and created Mobile Communications Corp. of America (MCCA). As its president and CEO, he transformed the business into one of the nation’s largest paging companies. In 1988, he founded SkyTel, a two-way paging company that became an international success.
Palmer’s business expertise led him to many national leadership positions. He served on the boards of three New York Stock Exchange companies and was a trustee board member of the National Symphony Orchestra. He also served as the chair of the U.S. President’s Export Council.
In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Palmer as U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, where he served until 2004.
The Mississippi Technology Alliance honored him with the inaugural Legend Award and induction into the first class of the Innovators Hall of Fame. He also served as president of the UM Foundation Board and was inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame.
Palmer has been a generous Ole Miss supporter for decades.
A lifelong tennis enthusiast, he committed to helping transform the Ole Miss tennis program into a national competitor. He was the major donor and driving force behind the creation of the Palmer-Salloum Tennis Center. The new facilities helped attract top-level scholarship tennis athletes from around the world.
In 1986, he gave a $1 million gift to establish the John N. Palmer Fellowship in Business Endowment to provide financial assistance to students pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the UM School of Business Administration. At that time, it was the largest gift ever awarded in the history of the university.
“We are incredibly grateful for the transformational gift that Mr. Palmer made to the MBA program,” said Ken Cyree, dean of the School of Business Administration. “His impact on our students and his legacy within our MBA program are an inspiration and an amazing accomplishment.”
Since being established, the Palmer Endowment has benefitted hundreds of MBA students at UM. In the past 22 years, nearly 400 MBA students have received financial assistance from his endowment.
“We are proud to have his name associated with our MBA program and we celebrate the success that his visionary gift has had on our school and students,” Cyree said. “Mr. Palmer is a key alumnus and donor to our MBA program, and his outstanding career and accomplishments, along with his strong passion for making Ole Miss better at preparing students for the marketplace, have greatly contributed to the trajectory of our program.
“Mr. Palmer has been very successful in his career and life, and we are thrilled to have his legacy continue as our MBA graduates carry on the excellence he demonstrated while a student-athlete, telecom executive, entrepreneur, philanthropist, venture capitalist and Ambassador to Portugal.”
“Since its inception, the Ole Miss Women’s Council has been a model for other colleges and universities to recognize women’s philanthropy as a fundraising force. Women have been too long overlooked as major donors and fundraisers despite the fact they make 64% of all charitable contributions. To be recognized by this powerful, innovative group of women who have raised nearly $20 million to support our university is a great honor,” Palmer said.
Past Legacy Award honorees include Dolly Parton, Dr. and Mrs. Arthur C. Guyton, Dr. Gerald M. “Doc” Hollingsworth, Jennifer Gillom and Peggie Gillom-Granderson, Chancellor Emeritus Robert C. Khayat, Charles Overby, Donna and Jim Barksdale, Gov. and Mrs. William Winter, Olivia Manning and Leigh Anne Tuohy.
“The Legacy Award was designed to honor outstanding individuals who have championed philanthropic endeavors and utilized their leadership capabilities to create generational, positive change in the lives of others,” Thames said.
“In the case of this honoree Ambassador John N. Palmer, his impact is felt internationally, nationally and throughout our state. It is our hope that the Ole Miss students will be inspired to emulate John’s exceptional example.”
For the 11th year, the C Spire Foundation served as the Presenting Sponsor of the Legacy Award with Platinum Sponsor Nicholas Air and Gold Sponsor mTrade.
Silver sponsors were Mary Susan and J.D. Clinton/Randall Commercial Group, Cooper Communities Inc., Jan and Lawrence Farrington, FedEx Corp., the MIND Center, Suzan and Tommy Thames, Kathy and Joe Sanderson Jr., the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation and Yates Construction.
Bronze sponsors were Donna and Jim Barksdale, Mary and Sam Haskell, Butler Snow, Ginger and Charles Clark/Gail and John Pittman, CoreLogic/FNC, Kimberly Fritts, Carol Palmer, Ole Miss Athletics, Mary Sharp and Jim Rayner/Mary Ann and Don Frugé, UM School of Business Administration, Vicki and Harry Sneed/Betsy Smith and the UM Foundation.
For information about the Legacy Award and the Ole Miss Women’s Council, contact Suzanne Helveston, OMWC program director, at email@example.com or 662-915-2956.
By Jonathan Scott/UM Development