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Elaine Palmer spells it out in the simplest of terms when she talks about her 90 years (and counting) on earth.
“I have had a charmed life.”
The circumstances behind her move to the Conservatory at Plano were anything but charmed back in 2016. She was visiting her daughter’s family in Fort Worth when her daughter noticed her starting to babble as she talked. As Palmer started to feel numbness in her body, her daughter sprang into action, getting her in the car and racing her to the hospital. The stroke still happened, but doctors in Dallas were able to keep it from being worse.
Previously a resident of San Diego, Palmer’s stroke cemented her move to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, specifically to the Conservatory at Plano, a move she was none too keen to make at the time.
“I have moved all my life, I’m used to moving, but this move was the first time I ever had a problem” she says. “The moving van was too big to fit, the new furniture didn’t fit, but all of it was just an excuse for the fact that I had had a massive stroke, and I was used to be an independent and capable person.”
How capable? Well, that’s a story unto itself.
In the early 1940s, she found herself working triage without any formal medical training in Trinidad as bodies washed ashore. Her father was an executive for Alcoa working in the Caribbean. The tropical paradise underwent wave after wave of terror as German U-boats entered the region, seeking to disrupt the supply of oil to the Allied war effort by torpedoing cargo ships. Not even a teenager, she was helping sort out the living from the dead as they washed ashore.
How independent? This one’s even better.
It was 1944 and she was working for TWA as the secretary to the personnel director. The workers of the Bell telephone company went on strike, leaving TWA blind between New York’s LaGuardia Airport and TWA’s headquarters in Kansas City. Desperate to keep the lines open, Palmer’s boss tasked her with trying to deduce how to keep the phone system online early one morning.
“I was in between two TWA hangars when I realized there’s a person looking over my shoulder who shouldn’t be there,” she recalls. “He was this big tall guy in a business suit wearing tennis shoes. I wasn’t too hospitable because of what I was trying to do and he kept insisting on trying to help me, but it wouldn’t work and I was trying my best not to get too frustrated with him. He finally asked me, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’”
She did not, so Howard Hughes had to introduce himself to her.
Palmer would be promoted rapidly over the next few years, up to the director of public relations for TWA, eventually working in Rockefeller Center. She was taking shorthand at a board of directors meeting one afternoon and rushing to her office to relay the dialogue to Hughes’ personal secretary who then passed the information on to her own boss.
Late in the afternoon, she picked up the phone to find the other secretary had been replaced by her boss.
“I picked up the phone and he was on the other end, and he said, ‘You’re Elaine?” Palmer recalls. “He told me, ‘I knew you were going places when you we worked on the Bell telephone program years ago.’ To remember something like that! He was so sharp and such a good businessman.”
Her experience in unique situations didn’t end there.
Every apartment at the Conservatory has a ledge outside the front door that the residents are encouraged to adorn with their own special touches. Palmer has placed a photo of herself petting a wild lion in Zimbabwe on hers.
“They were moving some of the lions from Zimbabwe to Botswana because there was overcrowding,” she remembers. “They offered tourists the chance to walk the lions out of one country into another. For four hours we walked with these two lions - no guns, no tranquilizers, no cars - just us and them.”
For a world traveler like Palmer, the move to a senior residential community has been nothing less than the next great adventure.
“My daughter and I had narrowed it down to six places and when she brought me here, I looked around and I knew. I told her, ‘This is it.’” Palmer says. “The people were so nice. Within a week of moving in, everybody on the dining staff new my name. The dining staff and the administration staff are outstanding. The food is exquisite and I’m very picky. There’s absolutely nothing about this place that I would change.”