The 1962 U.S. Open, in which my husband, Jack, defeated Arnold Palmer in an 18-hole playoff at Oakmont Country Club, marked more than the start of a great rivalry. That was when I first met Winnie Palmer, Arnold's wife—a quiet, friendly, sincere and gracious lady. Last month, when Winnie died of cancer at age 65, I lost one of my best friends.
Winnie and I hit it off from the start. I loved being with her, and admired how she treated presidents, royalty, friends and fans exactly the same. At tournaments Winnie and I never talked golf—neither of us play—and sometimes got so caught up in conversation that we missed a few shots. We knew that while Arnold and Jack wanted to beat each other's brains out, off the course we were all friends.
In September, as Hurricane Floyd was threatening Florida, the phone rang. It was Winnie, concerned for our safety. She was having difficulty breathing because of her illness, but she took the time to call. Last April, when Jack missed the Masters for the first time in 41 years, he decided to go to Augusta anyway for the champions' dinner. I hadn't planned to join him until Winnie phoned asking if I would be there. Suddenly I was happy to make the trip. Winnie, Amy (the Palmers' younger daughter) and I went shopping, talked about old times and had dinner together. I'm so glad Winnie asked me to join her—especially now, as that will be my last memory of her.
Last week Jack and I attended the memorial service for Winnie at Unity Chapel near Latrobe, Pa. It was a lovely service—quiet and understated, just what she would have wanted. Winnie sent me a beautiful teapot recently, and I will always think of her when I see the words inscribed on it: "A friend is the loving gardener who inspires the soul to blossom."
That was Winnie. As will so many others, I will miss her.