Requiem for Tom Townsend
02:03:25
Chet Whye

Requiem for Tom Townsend

Creative icon, community leader and philanthropist Thomas Kingman Townsend, 60, passed away in St. Louis on October 4, 2019, following a brief battle with angio sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Tom was a beloved husband, father, uncle, cousin, friend, teacher, mentor, partner, and connector of people from all walks of life. He was a passionate writer, musician, artist, photographer, philosopher, and advertising professional. He was a true inspiration to people all over the world, and had a profound impact on anyone with whom he came into contact. Tom was born in Charleston, SC, and spent an idyllic boyhood on the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, Florida. He graduated from St. John’s Country Day School in Jacksonville in 1976, and with honors from Duke University in 1980. While at Duke, he met the love of his life, Jeanne Knowles Townsend. Tom and Jeanne started their family in 1988, and moved with their three small children to their present home in Clayton in 1996. That same year, together with Tim Rodgers, Tom founded the advertising agency, Rodgers Townsend, creating a culture of creativity and character that was recognized not only as the most awarded creative agency in St. Louis, but annually as one of its Best Places to Work. During Tom’s years at Rodgers Townsend, countless friendships were forged, careers were fostered, marriages were entered into, and children were born and raised. The R/T family is immense and beautiful. Today, even after the retirement of both Tom and Tim, R/T continues the legacy born and bonded over 23 years ago. Tom’s many achievements in advertising and business included the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, the “Spirit of St. Louis” award from the Mayor of St. Louis for his unparalleled pro bono efforts, Volunteer of the Year award from the St. Louis Effort for AIDS, a “Keeper of the Park” designation from Forest Park Forever, induction into the St. Louis Media and Advertising Hall of Fame, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the St. Louis Ad Club. In 2010, Tom and Jeanne lost their oldest child, Alex, in a car accident, while he was a graphic design and advertising student at Savannah College of Art and Design. Tom continued to lead Rodgers Townsend for several years, but was simultaneously called by Alex in several different directions. He wrote a book, In This I Will Find Beauty, chronicling the family’s first year without Alex. He wrote a book of poetry relating to the loss, and he wrote and recorded numerous songs. He travelled to India. He took up oil painting. He continued to play piano alone and in various bands, something he had done seriously since high school. He and Jeanne started the Alex Townsend Memorial Foundation and the A-Town Get Down, an art and music festival in Savannah, Georgia, intended to inspire community and creativity and to celebrate the life of Alex Townsend (“A-Town”) (www.a-towngetdown.org). In 2012, he founded Pianos For People, a non-profit organization that provides free pianos and piano lessons to children and families with limited resources, giving these families equal access to the transformative power of music. In 2013, he took a sabbatical from R/T to teach advertising at SCAD for a semester in an effort to become part of the world and city that Alex had so loved. In sum, Tom powered his way through his enormous grief by bringing Alex’s artistic and musical gifts to the masses. Finally, in 2014, he retired from R/T to devote himself full time to his philanthropic causes. The Townsend’s philanthropic causes grew and thrived, with Tom serving as Board President, and Jeanne as Vice President, for each. The A-Town Get Down has been recognized as one of Savannah’s top festivals, and has provided thousands with the gift of art and music in its nearly ten year history. The Alex Townsend Memorial foundation has been used to fund initiatives at Oliverian School, the wonderful alternative boarding school Alex attended in New Hampshire, as well as an inspiring memorial courtyard and a scholarship fund at SCAD. Pianos For People, which he dubbed “the happiest place on Earth,” has sourced, serviced and delivered over 260 free pianos and served over 10,000 people through its South St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri, piano schools. This memorial celebration was held at The Church of St. Michael & St. George in St. Louis Missouri on March 7, 2020. Memorial contributions can be made to Pianos For People, www.pianosforpeople.org or the Alex Townsend Memorial Foundation (atownfoundation.org). [Video by chet whye jr | whye@chetwhye.com]