Don Palmer kept it clean

For a community icon, Don Palmer didn’t spend much time in the public eye, and that seemed to be how he liked it.

We recall a City Council meeting some years ago in which Palmer’s Bainbridge Disposal operation was on the agenda, and Don paid a buddy $20 to speak on his behalf – for an award presentation. One of the few times we recall the good-natured Palmer stepping to the podium himself was to defend local business parks, during a debate over light industry’s place in island zoning. An old-school Republican over whose desk loomed an enormous portrait of Richard Nixon, Palmer was proud of his business and its stewardship of the land, and was proud to say so. “I don’t think you can find a scrap of paper anywhere on my property,” he told the council, “and I’m in the garbage business!”

Because he kept a low profile – and was decidedly “Old Bainbridge” in a community with a rapidly gentrifying face – we’re not sure most people know what they lost with the passing of Palmer last week at age 70. If you value a clean island, you have Don Palmer to thank.

Truly, for all the things people love about Bainbridge, one of our most cherished features is measured by its absence: roadside trash. Palmer’s outfit was a staunch supporter of the Adopt-A-Road program from its inception, providing garbage bags and picking them up again after they were filled by volunteers. Our community’s fierce recycling ethos was nurtured by Bainbridge Disposal, which introduced curbside bins in the early 1990s and kept up the madly popular drop-off station out at Vincent Road. And for those who were slow to catch on, the company was there to help. A few years ago in these pages, Palmer recalled noticing customers who were setting out six full garbage cans every single week. He sent out his recycling coordinator to discuss the program, and the household was soon diverting half its waste to the blue bins. For years, Palmer provided annual data to tell the community just how its recycling efforts measured out in tonnage; the numbers were always huge, particularly as a percentage of the overall waste stream compared to other communities.

During his 40 years in the disposal business, Palmer

provided free manpower for cleanup after the Grand Old Fourth celebration. One of his last acts of community service was “Yard Waste Amnesty Day” in March, when Bainbridge Disposal accepted green debris free of charge at Vincent Road. Some 98 tons of waste came in.

His family recalls Palmer as “a man short of greed, long of laughter and deep in humility,” and that sounds about right. On April 30, a procession of 17 Bainbridge Disposal trucks will rumble from the company’s Sportsman Club Road shop, through Winslow and down the highway to Poulsbo for Palmer’s 1 p.m. memorial service at the Sons of Norway Hall.

As they pass by, remember Don Palmer and give him a nod for the clean island around you.

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