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William Barclay Livingstone Palmer

Date of Death: September 27, 2020

Date of Birth: March 2, 1932


William Barclay Livingstone Palmer known as Barclay, a passionate humanities teacher and administrator, education reformer, and pianist, who served in the British Army and competed in the 1956 Olympics, died peacefully at Avita of Brunswick on Sept. 27. He was 88. 

Barclay headed the Upper Schools at Friends Seminary in Manhattan from 1977 to 1987, and at Gill/St. Bernards School in NJ from 1974 to 1976. Working with the National Association of Independent Schools, he helped propel a nationwide shift from memorization and testing toward critical and creative thinking, and moral, racial and social awareness. With specialties in Shakespeare, poetry and myth, he taught at The Roeper School and the Detroit Country Day School in Michigan, Shady Side Academy in Pennsylvania, Salisbury School in Connecticut, and Manhattanville College in New York. He also led high school students on summer European study tours for Scholastic International.
 In 1988, Barclay founded the nonprofit "Teachers In Depth," videotaping teachers and leading workshops in which educators could discuss classroom challenges and strategies. He taught at Maine Senior College into his 80s. As an avid pianist, he played every J.S. Bach keyboard piece, and had served as board member of the Bowdoin Music Festival. He also had been a council member of The Darwin Project, which promotes awareness that Charles Darwin emphasized "moral qualities" rather than "survival of the fittest" as the primary driver of human evolution. 

Barclay was a great grandson of William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army and author of "In Darkest England, and The Way Out," and grandson of Catherine "Kate" Booth-Clibborn, known as La Maréchale, and her husband Arthur Booth-Clibborn, who brought the Salvation Army to France and Switzerland and were repeatedly jailed for their evangelical work. Through his grandfather, Barclay was a descendant of the Barclays of Urie, who had fought for Scottish independence and were founders of Quakerism and Barclays Bank.

Born March 2, 1932, in Toronto, Barclay was the fourth child of Josephine Booth-Clibborn and the Rev. Francis Noel Palmer, an author and Anglican minister. After his father was transferred in 1938 to Everton in Liverpool, Barclay spent months in hospitals with a bronchial infection and then varicoses. At 11, he spent a year in hospitals with degenerative disease in his leg and ankle, and was cured after becoming the first British civilian to receive penicillin. He recalled isolation and malnutrition as a boy during WWII, with "constant air raid sirens screaming our fear." 

Barclay went on to serve as a lieutenant and platoon commander in the British Army 1950 to 1952. Educated at Monkton Combe School, he earned a BA and MA in theology at St Peter's College, Oxford, where he gained an Athletics Blue in 1953 for weights, discus and javelin. He won the British AAA shot put championships in 1955 and 1956, held the British shot put record, received a trophy from Queen Elizabeth, and competed for England around Europe and at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. On his way home, Barclay fell in love with New York's high energy and jazz scene and worked unloading trucks and designing educational film strips before teaching. 

All his life, Barclay lived by the Salvation Army's commitment to under-privileged people, and Quakers' commitment to peace, equality, community and democracy. He launched diversity and racial awareness programs, and expanded scholarship programs to bring under-served into private schools and universities. 

Barclay was predeceased by his wife Esther Lacognata Palmer, who had served as president of the League of Womens Voters of Maine, and Asst. Commissioner to Gov. Joe Brennan; worked with the Maine Land Use Regulatory Commission, Council of Governments, and Farmland Trust; and ran for state Senate in 1998. 

A virtual celebration of Barclay's life and spirit will be held at 11am Saturday Oct. 17 by the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brunswick. William Schultz, a former student of Barclay's, now Senior Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and former Unitarian Universalist Association President and Amnesty International Executive Director, as well as Dame Felicity Palmer, an opera singer and Barclay's first cousin, will be among those speaking. 

Barclay is survived by three children, Barclay L. Palmer, a journalist, producer, consultant and educator, and his wife Dana Cowin; Catherine Von Burg, CEO of SimpliPhi Power Inc.; and Deborah Palmer Keiser, President of Timbuk2; as well as his sister, Catherine Palmer, former Music Director at the Yorkminster Baptist Church in Toronto, and her husband, the Rev. Nicholas Morkel, Dean of the York Mills Deanery in Toronto; as well as five grandchildren; two nieces and a nephew and their children. 

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Barclay's name to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick, CHANS Home Health & Hospice, Pathfinder International, American Friends Service Committee or Amnesty International.  

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