Edna Leigh Dunn Palmer, 97, a lifelong Presbyterian who was one of the ecumenical movement’s most valued and effective behind-the-scenes activists, died in the presence of family and friends November 8 following a stroke. 

Since the opening of The Interchurch Center in New York in 1960, Edna Palmer was a familiar presence in the Center ​as a staff member for the National Council of Churches Council on Local and Regional Ecumenism ​and the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches. 

A memorial service in celebration of Edna Palmer will be held Wednesday, November 19, at 11:00 a.m, at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, where she was a member from the age of 13

​Edna Palmer​ was executive assistant to succeeding directors of the WCC’s New York office, including the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, Jean S. Stromberg, and the Rev. Deborah DeWinter. She continued to work as a volunteer for the office until 2012. 

Former WCC general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, recognized the impact Edna had on her associates in a letter to her on her 90th birthday in May 2007. “In the context of the many transitions within the U.S. Office over the years, you have provided the continuity, Edna, and anchored new staff in their orientation,” Kobia wrote. 

“We realize that even more significant than the practical, day-to-day support you have provided for so many years, is the witness of your life of faith and your unfailing commitment to providing ecumenical hospitality.  Your colleagues here in Geneva and in the United States have come to admire your faithfulness, compassion, professional standards, zest for life and tenacity.” Kobia said. 

“For years, everyone who walked into the offices of the WCC looked forward to seeing Edna’s warm welcome and smile,” said the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, a United Church of Christ leader and former WCC president. “Her wonderful spirit and sense of hospitality always shined through.” 

Kathryn Lohre, immediate past chair of the National Council of Churches governing board, said the board will act on a resolution of appreciation for Palmer when it meets next week in St. Louis and in Ferguson, Mo. 

“Edna will be remembered as one of those ecumenical giants on whose shoulders we stand,” Lohre said. “She invited countless women and men to claim their role in the movement for Christian unity, forsaking neither the details nor the bigger picture. In her humble presence many of us came to understand the valuable lessons of ecumenical history and the invaluable vision for our common future as sisters and brothers united in Christ.”   

Edna Leigh Dunn Palmer was born May 23, 1917, in Elberon, Long Branch, N.J., in May 1917. She grew up in New York City, attending the Hunter School and New York University where she majored in architecture. She had a certificate in animal husbandry from Cornell University.