Joyce Elizabeth Palmer: Feb. 1, 1938-Feb. 9, 2023
“What a journey, my forever love, best friend, biggest cheerleader and mother,” her only daughter Joi Sheila Mathlin Gordon posted on Facebook. “… She had a series of health challenges after her move to be closer to me in Las Vegas. I can only think that God brought her to me so that we could do her final chapter together.”
Gordon is co-founder of the Las Vegas-based Rapport, Inc. and formerly served as CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide.
“In lieu of flowers, I am asking for donations to be made to Dress for Success Tulsa @ Tulsa.dressforsuccess.org (she volunteered there for 10+ years) or Dress for Success Southern Nevada at dressforsuccesssouthernnevada.org (all her clothing was donated on 2/16),” Gordon posted on Facebook.
“More importantly, thank you for loving my mom and showing her kindness throughout her beautiful life. I am certain you knew what you meant to her – she was awesome in how she showed love. I can only hope I am a reflection of my mom in all that I do.”
Mrs. Palmer was born on Feb. 1, 1938, in Manhattan, New York to Olga and John Edwards, who had emigrated from Grenada in the West Indies. She was seven minutes older than her twin brother, George Reginald Edwards. The twins joined their two older sisters, Janice Edwards and Dolores Veronica Edwards Lewer.
After graduating from the all-girls Washington Irving High School in Manhattan, Mrs. Palmer attended Baruch College and Queensborough Community College and received a degree in accounting.
Mrs. Palmer started her career at the New York Telephone Co. before joining American Airlines in 1968. Ten years later, she jumped at the opportunity within American Airlines’ accounting department to take a new job and relocate to Tulsa with her daughter.
Gordon noted that her mother’s job with American Airlines “was a perfect match because Joyce loved global travel.”
She did not take long to make her presence felt in Tulsa.
She obtained her real estate license in January 1983 and immediately joined Century 21 Rudy Wyatt Realtors. In her first two years with Century 21, Mrs. Palmer was recognized as one the agency’s top earners.
“She is conscientious, devotes long hours to real estate and has as her greatest concern serving people,” the agency’s president Rudy Wyatt told The Oklahoma Eagle in 1984.
Her obituary noted how she “encouraged many others to purchase homes and or become a part of the real estate industry. Joyce mentored many along her journey and took great pride in helping others.”
Herschel Palmer was a World War II Army veteran and a native of Pierce, Oklahoma, about an hour’s drive south of Tulsa. He had been twice married and had worked nearly three decades as a mechanic at American Airlines. He was considered the best-dressed aircraft cleaner because he never wore a company hat, instead replacing it with his collection of stylish hats. He was known throughout Tulsa for his debonair attire, which included an extensive shoe, hat and leather coat collection.
Mrs. Palmer was introduced to Herschel by her beautician, who happened to be his daughter.
Though he was 18 years her senior, they married in 1981 and stayed a couple for 34 years until his death in 2015.
By the time Mrs. Palmer retired from American Airlines after 25 years of service, she was the executive writer for the vice president of accounting.
Helping young Black women succeed
When her daughter Joi was 18, she was crowned Miss Black Tulsa in 1985.
Six years later, Mrs. Palmer would be recruited by her friend and American Airlines’ colleague Elizabeth Monday to be the pageant’s financial director.
A year later in 1992, Mrs. Palmer was tapped by Clara Luper – Miss Black Oklahoma’s state pageant director and noted educator who was best known for leading the sit-in movement to desegregate Oklahoma City in 1958 – to become the Tulsa pageant’s new director. Mrs. Palmer replaced John Jones.
“We are looking for young ladies who are single, ambitious, enthusiastic, highly motivated, creative, talented and knowledgeable,” she wrote in a 1992 article for the Eagle during her first-year as director.
Within a two-year span, Mrs. Palmer was credited with increasing scholarship awards to more than $3,000 in 1994 from $200 in 1992 and attracting more corporate sponsorship. She also wiped out the pageant’s debt.
“It is my understanding that the credibility of the pageant in years past has been lost,” Palmer told Eagle contributing writer Galen Gordon in 1994. “I’ve been told from numerous individuals I brought that credibility back.”
With drive and passion, Mrs. Palmer assembled a leadership team to produce its most successful run of pageants since its inception in 1975.
“In this space, she influenced young black women sharing her wisdom and knowledge to help guide them on their journey,” Mrs. Palmer’s obituary said. “Joyce loved meeting people and never met a stranger. She could find a friend in anyone.”
When her daughter became CEO of Dress for Success, Mrs. Palmer poured her energy to assist her, relying on the skills she used at American Airlines and as a Realtor.
“Joyce was adamant about one having good credit and continued to help others by volunteering and teaching classes at Dress for Success Tulsa on credit repair because she understood the power of home ownership and asset building,” her obit notes.
“She was such a fun loving lady,” Dress for Success Tulsa posted on its Facebook page. “She had a heart of gold, and shared her wisdom with everyone. She had a generous and uplifting spirit. She was a true angel who will be greatly missed!
Though never fully retired, Mrs. Palmer indulged in her hobbies that included fishing, knitting, travel and “playing WORDSCAPES (brilliance level 24427).” She was a regular “at craft shows throughout Tulsa where she sold jewelry, men’s ties, scarves and bows and continued to forge lasting relationships.”
Last summer, Gordon moved her mother to live with her in Las Vegas “where she enjoyed her weekly dinners out and late nights playing penny machines at the casino.”
Her family said the mother-daughter bond remained genuine and inspirational.
“If anyone asked Joyce what was her greatest accomplishment – she would always say Joi, and that Joi was her best friend,” her obituary noted. “Joyce was loved by many and she will be dearly missed by family and friends as we remember the incredible light that she brought into every life she touched.”
Mrs. Palmer was preceded in death by her husband, Herschel Palmer; brother, George Reginald Edwards; and two older sisters, Janice Edwards and Dolores Veronica Edwards. Besides her only daughter, Joi Sheila Mathlin Gordon (Errol Gordon); she is also survived by grandchildren, Malaysia McClure (Lawrence McClure), Joshua Palmer (LaNeicia Palmer), Sydney Gordon, Nicholas Gordon and Julia Jenkins; bonus grandchildren, Eric Hollis Jr., Rashad Hollis and Mi’Yonna Royal; great-grandchildren, Lanaii, Emerie, Eliana, Ja‘Nessa, Eleanor and Jas’Marie; and a host of other relatives, nieces and nephews.
Mrs. Palmer’s visitation is from 5 to 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 24, at Floral Haven Funeral Home and Crematory, 6500 S. 129th East Ave., Broken Arrow, which is handling her arrangements. Her “Celebration of Life” funeral ceremony begins at Floral Haven Funeral Home Chapel at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 25, followed by burial at Floral Haven.