Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer died Sunday at the age of 87. He was predeceased by his first wife, Winifred “Winnie” Walzer Palmer, who died in 1999.
Arnold and Winnie were married for 45 years before her death at the age of 65.
Palmer had since remarried, and is survived by his second wife, Kathleen Gawthrop.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. They Met at a Golf Tournament in Pennsylvania & Were Married in 1954
Arnold Palmer met Winifred Walzer at a golf tournament in their home state of Pennsylvania in 1954. She was a student at Brown University and he had recently won the state’s amateur golf tournament and was on his way to a professional career.
They were married that same year.
“I met him on Tuesday; he asked me to marry him on Saturday,” she once said, according to CBS News.
As I was coming back into the inn (from playing a practice round), I saw a couple of pretty girls coming down the stairway that led to the main lobby. It was the quieter, prettier, dark-haired one that caught my eye. She had smoky good looks, and her demeanor had a clear sheen of class.
Palmer wrote that he said to her, “if you don’t have anything to do, why don’t you come out and watch the golf.” He said she replied, “perhaps I will.”
Palmer said they had dinner that Saturday and he proposed. She accepted his proposal and he also won the tournament.
“Winnie, I began to learn that night, was unlike any girl I’d ever met, not just pretty and comfortable in almost any situation, but also smart, well traveled (she’d just come home from a big European trip), engagingly independent minded, even something of a would-be rebel,” Palmer wrote in his autobiography.
Palmer, a Latrobe, Pennsylvani, and Walzer, of Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, eloped and were married at a small church near her sister’s home in Virginia.
“My mother was all for it,” her brother, Marty Walzer told the New York Times. “but Dad had reservations. He came around eventually, but after Winnie and Arnold had their two daughters, Peggy and Amy, I remember Dad telling Arnold, ‘You wait and see, you’ll feel the same way I did.'”
2. They Had 2 Daughters Together, Amy & Peggy
The couple had two daughters together, Amy and Peggy.
“She was really the glue for all of our family,” Amy told the Golf Channel in 2014. “She was just the most accommodating person ever. She had deep, meaningful relationships with everyone, and I think she knew what my father needed and was willing to take a back seat anytime she needed to make sure to put everybody else out front, when in fact she was the one that was so often the person behind the scene and I think she did amazing things juggling and raising a family and trying to be there for my father.”
Both daughters are now married with children.
3. She Focused Her Life on Charity Work, Raising Money for Literacy & Health Care Programs, While Also Running Businesses Their Family Owned
Winnie Palmer stayed mainly out of the spotlight, focusing her life on charity work behind the scenes, raising money for health care and literacy programs for children.
She also helped manage business interests the Palmer family was involved in, including golf clubs and a furniture company, where she designed a line in her husband’s name. She had been studying interior design when she met her husband.
“Winnie has always tried to stay out of the limelight,” Arnold’s longtime assistant, Doc Giffin, told the Golf Channel in 2014. “Over the years, she’s declined 10 times as many interviews as she’s granted to people who wanted to talk to Mrs. Arnold Palmer. But she’s always been there for Arnold when he needed her. She was the mainstay in raising two wonderful daughters. She kept the house and did all the cooking herself. In the early years, she handled a lot of Arnold’s business arrangements. … Personally, professionally, in every aspect of his life, Winnie has always been there for Arnold.”
With the agreement to give the new children’s hospital his name, Arnold insisted on a commitment that ‘good’ would never be ‘good enough’ and set forth a challenge to the hospital: to always strive to be the best.
Winnie also generously gave her time and energy to the cause, hosting groups on special tours of the hospital to engage their support. In addition, she served on the Arnold Palmer Hospital board of directors for more than 10 years and inspired the establishment of the annual Halloween parade for our patients, helping them to forget being in a hospital and to just enjoy being a child for a while.
It’s only fitting that the name of our newest hospital be synonymous with the same commitment to quality and excellence as Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. We wanted it to immediately resonate with everyone who hears it — a name that is forever associated with caring, compassion and distinction. Winnie Palmer displayed these qualities and many more in all that she did. Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies is a natural continuation of a legacy of caring that will continue for generations to come.
The hospital is alongside the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.
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4. She Died of Ovarian Cancer in 1999
Winnie Palmer died in 1999 after battling ovarian cancer, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
She had battled the disease for about a year before his death. Arnold Palmer also battled the disease, surviving prostate cancer.
Winnie Palmer died at the family’s home in Pennsylvania, where she spent the final few weeks of her life.
Her death was tough for Palmer to take.
“They were very close,” Cori Britt, vice president of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, told the Golf Channel in 2014. “He always called her ‘lover.’ ‘Hey, lover, how you doing?’ They were hand-holders, they were huggers, they were very close. It was sweet.”
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5. Palmer Married His Second Wife, Kit, in 2005
Kit Palmer, now 62, was also previously married, and is the mother of three children.
“She’s a great lady. I’ve known her for a long time. We’ve been engaged for some time and dated before that,” Palmer told the Associated Press. “She’s just very special.”
They were married in a small ceremony overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii.
She quickly became a major part of the family.
“I think they were so totally different, my mother and Kit,” Amy Palmer Saunders told the Golf Channel in 2014.. “I think the companionship that Kit loves to watch sports, she loves to be at home and I think that’s really what my dad needs. I think he needed someone that enjoys the things he enjoys and I think that everybody embraced Kit in a way that I don’t think, I hope that she never felt that there was this looming presence of my mother.”
Kit Palmer told the Golf Channel she always felt the presence of Winnie, but in a positive way.
“I don’t think it’s hard (living in Winnie’s shadow),” Kit said. “I think it’s nice to see (Winnie ever-present in Arnold’s life at Bay Hill), where she lived and the influence she had here.”
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