George V. Palmer Memorial

December 05, 2014

Lifelong Baltimore County resident and friend, George Victor Palmer, son of the late Mildred and Albert Palmer, passed away at his home in Butler, at age 91, on December 5, 2014. He went peacefully in his sleep with his wife of 68 years, Bessie Jane (Gill) Palmer, nearby. He was buried at his home church, Falls Road Methodist, on December 11th.

Mr. Palmer was the owner and Chairman of the Board of Gray and Son, Inc., a contractor specializing in grading, paving and underground utilities, and of Maryland Paving, Inc., a hot asphalt mix producer. Gray and Son has long been a major contractor in the state from Washington, D.C. to the Mason-Dixon Line and from the Chesapeake Bay to Frederick. Gray and Son has worked on many major Maryland roads and has built numerous residential and commercial sites in the greater Baltimore area. They remain today a viable and important Maryland institution.

Mr. Palmer was born in his grandparents’ home on June 7, 1923 on Stringtown Road, in Butler. His parents raised him along Stringtown Road with his brother Calvin and his sister Eva Lee. When George and Jane were blessed with their daughter Barbara, they remained on Stringtown while they raised her. The home was also always filled with animals, especially his beloved hunting dogs, and in later years, a trusty lab.

Except to serve his country in World War II, Mr. Palmer never strayed far from Stringtown. Together with his lifelong friend Jerry Bull from nearby Hereford, they enlisted in the Navy in 1943. They were attached to the Navy’s construction unit, the Seabees. George and Jerry served together for their entire time in the service. Their first deployment found them on the barren island of Attu, the western most of the Aleutian Islands. It was the site of the only World War II battle on American soil. Today the uninhabited island is a five day boat ride and is one of the most remote locations in the United States. It was here on this rocky outcrop that Mr. Palmer and the Seabees built runways for American planes that would bomb the Japanese mainland. The work was complicated by Japanese bombing and sniper fire. When under attack, the equipment operators would raise the bulldozer blade as high as possible for cover and back up until they could jump in a foxhole or under the tractor. Once the bombing was over, they would begin the grading process again.

As the American military began closing in on the main island of Japan, Mr. Palmer’s unit was sent to Okinawa. He often spoke of how glad he was to be moved from the windblown Arctic to the tropics, yet he wished the Navy had traded their Arctic uniforms. The process of building airfields began again - this time for American planes returning from bombing runs over the Japanese mainland to refuel for the trip back to their home base. The Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the only atomic bombs during war, landed in Okinawa for refueling after the mission over Nagasaki. A few days later the war ended and Mr. Palmer headed home to the only place he wanted to live, Maryland.

While serving his country, Mr. Palmer found a passion that would in turn serve him the rest of his life. He began working in the excavating business for several local Baltimore companies, including Earnhardt & May. He found himself again working on an airfield, National Airport, which would become today’s Ronald Reagan Airport. He and Jane were married after his return and a few years later would begin their family when their daughter Barbara was born.

The United States post-war economic boom was in full swing by 1952 when Oscar Gray was working to expand and change his family business, Gray and Son, founded in 1908. Mr. Gray teamed up with Frank Roberts to form EZ Surface, a relatively new process of using hot asphalt, or black top, to build tennis courts. They hired George to manage the new business, beginning a long and fruitful relationship. Mr. Roberts left the business a year later and Mr. Gray consolidated the companies under the established name, Gray and Son. The company employed a total of fifteen men and would begin slowly building into a major employer of nearly five hundred people during its seasonal peak today.

Mr. Palmer, his brother Calvin Palmer and brother-in-law Clyde “Reds” Cofiell purchased Gray and Son in 1966 from Oscar Gray. Under Mr. Palmer’s leadership the company grew to one of the largest and most respected companies. Gray and Son employed over two hundred employees, or as he called them “his men”, a term of endearment. He often said that a man could be awarded all jobs in the world and have all the equipment he needed, but without good employees there would be no company. This attitude, tied together with the unending desire to please the customer would be the backbone of the “Gray Way”.

The company expanded further in 1988 with a merger with Webbert Plumbing, owned by Mr. Palmer’s son-in-law Robert “Bob” Webbert. The merger gave Gray a utility division, water and sewer added to storm drainage. The company was now able to provide full turnkey site services. Mr. Webbert became president in 1992 and Mr. Palmer assumed the duties of Chairman of the Board. Until recently, Mr. Palmer was an active member of the company, making daily trips to the office and the company’s projects.

Mr. Palmer was very active in the Baltimore business community. He was a member of several local boards, including ABC Contractor Association, Sparks State Bank, Maryland Wildlife Association and the Mt. Washington Club. He serves as president of the Baltimore County Highway Contractors Association and was a member of the National Asphalt Pavement Association and the National Home Builders Association.

While Mr. Palmer’s work was his passion, he was also very active outside the office. As a young man he could be found playing baseball during the summer. Years later he would trade his bat and glove for golf clubs and instead of being found on a diamond he was on the links. He was an active member at Piney Branch Golf Club in Hampstead, and a member of their board. In later years he could be found extending the golf season in Florida. He also enjoyed fishing in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Mr. Palmer was an avid hunter and could be found in duck and goose blinds on the eastern shore or deer hunting in the woods around his home. In addition, he was a member of the Jacksonville Hunt Club and travelled often to their hunting grounds in Lancaster County, Virginia. He had a lifelong love of both American and English fox hunting. His favorite pastime, however, was to gather friends in the summer to play music. He played guitar in a bluegrass band of close friends and neighbors.

Mr. Palmer passed at Christmas, his favorite time of the year. He loved Christmas because it combined his favorite things: friends, family and giving. He often said never fight with a neighbor or family member. One would be hard pressed to remember him doing either. He loved snow and on the day of his memorial, December 11th, flurries fell on the Hunt Valley Masonic Home, the place of his memorial service.

Mr. Palmer will be missed. He is survived by his wife Bessie Jane (Gill) Palmer, his brother Calvin Palmer, his sister Eva Lee, his daughter Barbara Webbert and son-in-law Robert Webbert, his grandson David Stockbridge and wife Kesha, grandson Joel Stockbridge and wife Allison, granddaughter Katie McInnes and husband William and great-grandchildren Brooke and Ryan Stockbridge. He also leaves behind a beloved best friend – a yellow lab known simply as Holly.