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Michael D. Palm, a co-founder of Centre Reinsurance Holdings Ltd. in Bermuda, and a leading figure in the creation of financial reinsurance who later gave away much of his fortune, has died.
Mr. Palm died earlier this month in Telluride, Colo., from complications of AIDS, a disease he spent large amounts of money and time trying to combat. He was 47 years old.
Centre Re, formed in 1988, introduced more complex financial transactions to the world of reinsurance. This different approach was largely the result of Mr. Palm. "Michael was one of the most intellectual, thoughtful and insightful people I'd ever known," said Steven Gluckstern, who founded Centre Re with Mr. Palm.
Mr. Palm took a circuitous route to the reinsurance world. After graduating from Yale University and after receiving a master's degree from Harvard University, Mr. Palm taught at an English-language school in Iran. While there, he met Mr. Gluckstern, forming a team that more than a decade later would start Centre Re.
After returning from Iran in 1978, Mr. Palm worked at the Bank of Boston in the corporate finance department and in 1986 joined Mr. Gluckstern at Berkshire Hathaway, where they conceived the idea of Centre Re. Two years later, they launched their new company after raising $250 million in financing from seven institutional investors.
The venture of the two longtime friends utilized their complementary talents.
"Michael and I were the classic Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside," Mr. Gluckstern said in an interview. "Michael was the thinker and I was the doer."
"Michael was the intellectual. He was the guy who could see through complex problems clearly," he continued.
Mr. Gluckstern attributes much of the company's success to using common sense and a lesson they learned at Berkshire Hathaway. "Don't do anything you don't understand," he explained.
Zurich Insurance Group, an original investor in Centre Re, became a majority owner in 1991 and sole owner in 1993. Centre Re was renamed Centre Solutions in 1997 and is now part of Zurich Centre Group.
At the end of 1997, Mr. Palm retired from Centre Solutions to devote his time to intellectual pursuits and charitable organizations.
His work with various charities dominated Mr. Palm's life outside of insurance. He gave millions of dollars to organizations that fight AIDS and help those with the disease.
Despite his success in business, Mr. Gluckstern says Mr. Palm's true passion was for his charitable causes.
"His legacy will not be in the insurance business," Mr. Gluckstern said.
Mark Robinson, the executive director of the Gay Men's Health Crisis Inc. in New York, where Mr. Palm was senior vp of the board of directors, said Mr. Palm generously gave his time and money without seeking publicity.
"There was never a hidden agenda," Mr. Robinson said. "The generosity was much more out of a personal feeling rather than getting his name spread around."
Mr. Palm's largest gift to the GMHC was for $2.5 million in 1995. Mr. Palm's private nature was such that only with Mr. Robinson's urging did Mr. Palm finally agree to having a wing of the group's headquarters named in his honor.
In addition to his involvement with the GMHC, Mr. Palm sat on the board of various organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Perhaps his most lasting achievement, however, was the establishment of the Michael Palm Foundation. To date, the foundation has provided more than $10 million in grants to more than 30 organizations, primarily for gay rights, education and the arts.