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Bev and Dick Palmer

Paying it forward in thanks for a life-changing education

The Michigan Psychology Department isn’t in the business of matchmaking. Nonetheless it did an excellent job of connecting Dick and Bev Palmer, who met as psychology undergraduates and have been married for more than 50 years. While Michigan fostered their relationship, in their estimation it is also responsible for their long and successful careers in psychology and psychiatry.

Bev and Dick have set up the Richard C. and Beverly B. Palmer Scholarship Fund for LSA undergraduates, with preference for those studying psychology. While the scholarship won’t help a current student find the love of their life, the Palmers are confident that, just as it did for them, it will give students the foundation for a successful career and a rich life.

Though both Ohio natives, Bev and Dick were drawn to the academic strength and broad opportunities the University of Michigan offered, and each transferred after a year at smaller colleges closer to home. Bev applied to what she considered the two best psychology departments in the country, at Michigan and Harvard, unaware that Harvard didn’t yet accept female students. When they suggested that she could attend Radcliffe and take a few Harvard courses, she chose Michigan.

Once Bev and Dick arrived at Michigan and took psychology courses they were sold on the major. “Michigan provided a lot of opportunity for me to really learn psychology in depth as well as breadth,” Bev recalls. “It really made a scholar out of me.” The research skills she built as an undergraduate were key in helping her earn a doctorate, as was the mentorship of Professor Howard Wolowitz, with whom she studied personality and who guided her in an independent study on the work Carl Rogers. “The way that he taught that personality course, and the way he was so kind to do one on one mentoring, was seminal to my entire career.”

While Dick had been planning a career in medicine, his experiences in the psychology department cemented his decision to pursue psychiatry. The support of a favorite experimental psych lab professor was particularly influential. “He was kind and really very encouraging and very motivating to me,” he recalls. “It had a profound effect in terms of how I wound up as a psychiatrist.”

Dick and Bev under the arch in 1965

Although psychology connected Bev and Dick, it was actually the rat lab that brought them together. Dick had already noticed Bev in their personality development course, when he ran into her staring at a map, trying to find the rat lab. He walked her to the lab, which was in an off-campus house, and when she finished a few hours of work, she found him waiting for her. They went to Drakes for limeade and pecan rolls, and the relationship had begun.

After graduating in 1966, Dick and Bev went on to Ohio State University, where Dick earned his medical degree and Bev her Ph.D. in clinical psychology (though they are quick to note that they remained “true Wolverines”). Once Dick finished his internship, they landed in the Los Angeles area, where they’ve been ever since. Bev became a clinical psychology professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills and at Saybrook University. She has also worked internationally on three Fulbright fellowships, setting up psychology program and teaching professors in Malaysia and Barbados.

Since her undergraduate days, Bev has spent her career exploring dyadic interactions, or, more simply, love. In her scholarly work, she focused on love, relationships, interpersonal skills, and sexuality. In her practice she treats individuals and couples with sexual and relationship issues. She recently published Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life, a book project that has been the culmination of all her work.

In his psychiatry practice, Dick has primarily worked with adults with anxiety and depression, and supervises residents at Harbor–UCLA Medical Center. The two have worked together in the same practice since 1985, often consulting with each other on patients.

In recent years, Dick and Bev have reconnected to the University of Michigan community through alumni tours. In 2017 they traveled to Japan with an alumni group and loved the experience. They have plans for another alumni trip through the Panama Canal.

To Bev and Dick, the scholarship they have established is their way of paying it forward – giving someone else the education, financial support, and preparation from which they benefited. Both are certain that their lives would not have been the same without this. “Michigan provided the foundation, both in terms of a continuing curiosity and interest in psychology and then the application of it. If it hadn't been for the professors at University of Michigan, we wouldn't have been in these careers,” Bev asserts. Yet even broader than their careers, they feel Michigan truly had a lasting impact on the way they understand the world. “You really are learning to think differently about things,” Dick affirms, and Bev agrees, “You go to college to learn about the history of the world, to learn about culture, to learn all of these things the rest of your life will cause you to appreciate what you are experiencing at a much deeper level.”