WOODS CROSS — Matthew Palmer was described by his family as a gifted pianist, a young man with a huge smile, and someone who devoted his life to serving others.
"Ever since Matthew was born, he would be what you’d call a good kid He was kind and sweet and ambitious, good-natured and happy," life-long neighbor Marilyn Workman said.
Palmer, 19, who had dreams of studying in the medical field at the University of Utah, always knew he wanted to serve a mission for the LDS Church. Just 10 months into his mission in Madagascar, he died from a condition his family described as similar to a brain aneurysm.
But it would not be the end of his service.
"We talked to him at Christmas and we talked to him on Mother's Day, and those were very uplifting, just to know that he was doing OK," Palmer's older brother Nick Palmer said. "None of us knew on Mother's Day, that would be the last time we’d ever talk to him."
Palmer began feeling headaches more than a month ago and was treated in Madagascar. The headaches persisted, scans followed, and he was flown from the island nation to Union Hospital, near Johannesburg, South Africa. While there, doctors discovered internal bleeding in his brain, his family said.
His parents flew from Utah to Johannesburg last week and were with their son when he died on Thursday.
"The initial shock — I didn’t expect it. I was on my way to work and dropping my kids off at my Grandma's, and I got the news and I just lost it," Nick Palmer, Matthew's older brother, said Tuesday.
"To hear that, I couldn’t even work. Having so much family so close, they just rallied the troops and they just took on the work I had to do that day."
His brother, he said, had discussed donating his vital organs and tissues with his parents prior to his mission; he had a donation notification on his driver's license.
The family agreed to donate his organs, a decision doctors in South Africa told the family would help as many as 80 adults and children, all in Africa.
"On top of all the people he helped while he was in Madagascar, knowing that he helped so many more I think is going to help all of us get through this hard time," Nick Palmer said.
Joel Newman, the assistant Director of Communications at United Network for Organ Sharing in Virginia, said that a donation such as Palmer's is something that goes above and beyond what is expected.
"The generosity of anyone who agrees to organ and tissue donation provides the greatest possibility to return a fellow human being to life and function and we applaud everyone who does that," Newman said.
Palmer's sister, Jennifer Wight, said that when her parents, Kevin and Rowena, called to talk about possibly donating her brother's body, she thought it would be something her brother would want.
"He loved serving people and where he was even wanting to go into the medical field, it was just more of a way for him to continue that dream," Wight said.
"It kind of gives me goose bumps. It’s amazing that he was able to do that. I think that’s exactly what he wanted to do if that was his last act on Earth," she said.
Matthew Palmer's service-oriented life began long before his mission. Tom Smith, 21, who returned from his own mission in April, said he met Palmer in Boy Scouts and recalled his friend's willingness to lend a helping hand.
"During the winter we would all get together and shovel everybody’s walks who hadn’t already been shoveled until they were all done," Smith said.
Whether it was through his inspiring music or compassionate service, Palmer's love for all people is something his neighborhood will never forget. Palmer's parents will receive a warm welcome home from South Africa when they return to the U.S. Wednesday.
Family members and neighbors gathered at the Palmer home Tuesday evening to place yellow ribbons and yellow roses on trees and mailboxes as a symbolic gesture of support. The group also planned to wrap yellow ribbons along the route the Palmers will take home from the airport, according to Brent Page, Rowena Palmer's brother and close neighbor.
"The yellow ribbon is a sign of welcome home, of support, and that's what this neighborhood is," Page said. "We support one another, whatever the cause may be."
Many youths from the neighborhood recalled Matthew Palmer's contributions to service within the community while they participated in Tuesday's preparations.
"This (neighborhood) is all about service," said Hayden Gregersen, 12. "It feels really good."
"We’ve always known there’s a lot of support in this neighborhood, a lot of love, but I think it’s going to be impactful for them, just to have that all out in the open and be able to visualize they are all here for us," said Wight.
His family said when the LDS missionary age was dropped to 18 years old he was ready to go and put his mission papers in as quickly as he could.
"I don’t think he was released from his mission. I think he was promoted to a better place where he can do more good there than here," Workman said.
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