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Sad news for our Holland Hall community

It is with great sadness that we share the news that beloved teacher and Holland Hall historian Ron Palma died on Monday, Sept. 19.

An obituary follows.

In Ron Palma’s office, with its Latin posters, crazy ties and view of the Commons, students were always warmly welcomed.

“He loved his students and this school,” said his wife, Fay. “It was love at first sight.” And since 1973, Holland Hall has loved him right back.

Ronald Bruce Palma, retired Latin teacher, textbook author and Holland Hall historian, passed away Monday, Sept. 19, at the age of 75.

In honor of Mr. Palma’s retirement in 2011, Micah Fitzerman-Blue ’01, who would go on to win multiple awards for his film work, offered this:

“Calling Ron Palma a Latin teacher is a bit like calling Rome a city in Italy. On both accounts the statement is true, but it says nothing about the rich culture, history, reach, and yes, imperial legacy that makes each so significant. …”

“I am a deeper reader, a more avid traveler, a bigger dreamer, and better person because Mr. Palma was my teacher.”

His students remember him for his at times dry and other times silly sense of humor.

“Mr. Palma’s classroom was a fun place to be,” remembered Caroline Holmes ’13. “We never took ourselves too seriously, but always got our work done. The Nerf guns were definitely a highlight, and we knew it was going to be a good day when class started with Mr. Palma picking his target.

“He let us follow our own path in class and encouraged us to think outside the box. He was one of the most interesting and kind teachers I have ever had, even when we pranked him now and again.”

Other students remembered his “I, Claudius” documentary marathons, complete with Little Caesar’s pizza, and his crazy ties — he would offer a prize to a student who recognized the day he wore a particular tie for a second time.

“He was more than a teacher, he was a mentor and later a friend,” said Ashley Parrish ‘93, who is now the Director of Communications and Marketing at Holland Hall, but for years wrote and edited stories for the Tulsa World. “I remember doing a Latin project for Mr. Palma, and he called me in to tell me that he just knew I was going to be a writer. That memory means so much to me, and it really gave me the confidence he knew I needed.”

After retirement, Palma was asked to write Holland Hall’s history, which he published in a two-volume set in 2016.

“The Holland Hall history project took three years to research and write (2011-14) following my retirement from the school,” he wrote in the Acknowledgements section of the books.

The results of that meticulous research can be found all over campus — from the history lessons in the Hall of Honor in the A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Dining and Wellness Center to the school’s website, which now proudly carries the words of the school’s founders: Holland Hall was founded to be “a fully equipped college preparatory school of the highest standing, where each student may receive individual attention, within the reach of any citizen in Tulsa.”

The early years

Although Mr. Palma thought he would teach at the college level after receiving his degree from Cornell and doing his doctoral work at the  University of Cincinnati, it was a small school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that called him first.

Fay had been working odd jobs to put him through graduate school, and when Holland Hall called, he got on a plane for Oklahoma.

He was wined and dined — school officials took him to Jamil’s — and he fell in love with this new campus in south Tulsa. He called his wife from the hotel and asked if she’d move to Oklahoma — which she knew nothing about.

“I said, ‘Does this mean you’ve got a job? This is after putting him through graduate school for years. … I said, ‘Well, of course. I’ll follow you anywhere.”

She then got out the World Book Encyclopedias and started researching Oklahoma.

“We were well over 1000 miles from a single solitary relative, and Holland Hall became our family. A very, very nice family,” Fay remembered. That first Thanksgiving, they were invited to a parent’s home. “I mean, that’s kind. That’s Oklahoma kind. That’s Holland Hall kind.”

Over the years, Palma would be considered an expert in the Classics and secondary education.

He co-wrote the “Ecce Romani” series of textbooks, which have been studied across the world, as well as teacher guidebooks and Advanced Placement exams.

He fell in love with Latin while at Cornell, quickly changing focus from pre-medicine to the Classics, eventually earning a prestigious Louise Taft Semple Fellowship from the University of Cincinnati.

It was also at Cornell that he met and married Fay.

“We met during Freshman Orientation, we were 17, and fell madly in love,” she said. They were never apart for longer than a conference here and there, and they even worked together on the Holland Hall campus for 30 years.

The Palmas loved to travel. Every dollar Mr. Palma made from writing his books went into a travel account. Their last trip was a cruise through the Panama Canal. Before he passed, she reminded him that the next trip they will take together will be to Tuscany, where they agreed to have their ashes scattered by their daughters.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Fay (Schlosser) Palma, his two daughters, Laurie Palma DeVito, of Summerville, S.C.; Kate Palma, of Tulsa; and grandchildren Wil DeVito, Cassie DeVito, and Lily Burns.

A Celebration of Life will be scheduled for a later time.

Mr. Palma wanted any memorial donations to be made to the Holland Hall Fund for Financial Aid, 5666 E. 81st St., Tulsa, 74137.