Joan Merlin Palmer passed away in her home in Chicago on September 3, 2018, at the age of 75. Joan earned a degree in botany from the University of Chicago (A.B. ’63), where she met her husband, Patrick, on the first day of classes. They were married on the day following their graduation. The couple briefly moved to Boston, where Joan continued her education, earning a master’s degree in chemistry from Boston University. In 1968, she and Patrick returned to Chicago, where they have lived ever since. Joan worked as an inorganic chemist at the University of Chicago for over a decade. During this time, she conducted research on transition metal complexes and co-authored multiple papers in scientific journals. However, Joan began looking for a way to match her career with her intense interest in social justice. This led her to pursue a degree in social work, and began a 35-year career dedicated to helping and supporting socially vulnerable clients.
Joan graduated from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration (SSA) in 1982. As a clinical social worker, Joan sought out challenging assignments that allowed her to assist some of the most marginalized members of society. Joan worked with pregnant teens at the University of Chicago Hospital, with public housing residents at Robert Taylor Homes, with pregnant and parenting HIV+ women at the UIC Medical Center, with individuals awaiting trial for capital crimes for the Cook County Public Defender, and with welfare recipients at the Illinois Department of Human Services. She also worked as a clinical consultant for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Catholic Charities, Harborquest, and the Institute for Community Peace. In addition, she was an adjunct professor at SSA for over 20 years, where she taught clinical intervention with socially vulnerable clients. Joan enjoyed teaching and was dedicated to helping her students gain a broader appreciation for how social workers can directly and positively impact social change.
Beyond classroom teaching, in recent years, Joan provided free professional supervision to recent graduates in her home to help them to complete the formal requirements for social work licensure. She was also part of the successful campaign by adjunct faculty members to organize a union as part of SEIU Local 73.
She is survived by her husband, Patrick Edward Palmer; sister Katharine Grace Merlin; daughter Laura Katherine Palmer, sons Aidan Edward Palmer and David Elijah Palmer; and grandchildren Michelle Antoinette Gautier, Carlos Zelaya Lazo, Adelyn Zelaya Lazo, Kriscia Zelaya Lazo, Arvind Angarai Sadasiv, and Ravi Angarai Sadasiv.
A memorial service will be held at 11am on Saturday, October 6th at Bond Chapel, on the University of Chicago campus, with a reception to follow at Eckhardt Research Center. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Interfaith Worker Justice, Mary’s Pence, or The Night Ministry.