PRINCESS ANNE, Md.- With a heavy heart, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore is saddened to announce the passing of a Hawk legend Nelson Townsend, who died Thursday morning in Tallahassee, Florida at the age of 73.
Townsend, a 1962 graduate of then Maryland State College, a UMES Hall of Famer, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Hall of Famer and a two-time Director of Athletics at UMES, collapsed on campus at Florida A&M University Thursday morning where he was serving as the Interim Director of Athletics for the Rattlers.
Townsend, served two terms as Director of Athletics at UMES. The latest began with an interim appointment back in 2003-2005. Previously he served as AD from 1976-1979. His last post at UMES began in 2000 as director of collaborative programs between Salisbury University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, which ended when he took over as director of athletics in 2003.
In 2005, Townsend's last season with UMES, the women's bowling team won the MEAC Championship, which proved to be a spring board for its future successes that included five National Championships.
Townsend played a key role in the current landscape of Hawk Athletics. Women's Basketball head coach Fred Batchelor, who is in his 11th season at the helm of the program, was hired by Townsend at UMES.
Batchelor, the winningest head women's basketball coach in school history, and who coached at the University at Buffalo under Townsend, was particularly struck hard by the shocking news of Townsend's death.
“He was without a doubt the single most important influence in my professional development and in my career path as a coach. Every step of the way he was there to help me get positions, to advise me, to recommend me and to mentor me. My family and I are indebted to all of his efforts, Mr. Townsend and his family have been a second family to me, his wife Diane, his children, they have all played a huge role in shaping who I am as a father, coach and person.”
The same year Townsend hired Batchelor, he also appointed Alex Temkin to lead the women's volleyball program. Temkin helped maintain a program that would go on to win a pair of conference championships under his successor, Don Metil.
Perhaps the most impact Townsend had was on director of athletics Keith Davidson. Townsend who gave Davidson his first job in intercollegiate athletics at Buffalo, brought him to UMES from Texas Southern to head the Hawks' compliance office. Davidson was the obvious choice in January 2006 for acting AD when Townsend left at the end 2005. The interim tag was removed in 2007 by then President Dr. Thelma B. Thompson. UMES has enjoyed its most success in several decades under Davidson, capturing five straight MEAC Graduation Success Rate Awards, five National Championships, 12 conference championships, 47 All-America selections and three prestigious Academic All-America honors, four NCAA Elite 89 winners and numerous other awards.
Davidson, who considered Townsend his mentor and friend, spoke regularly with his former boss. “He was like a father to me. He advised me, counseled me, and was genuinely concerned for me. He offered me opportunities when others didn't, he educated me on collegiate athletics. I am personally and professionally saddened at this loss. The Townsend family were my family. We lost a great ambassador not only for UMES, but for the MEAC and the NCAA. He truly understood the mission of collegiate athletics, public service and community engagement. He was a great man, but now we have to turn our attention to his family and I need to be able to help provide them some support and love, just like he always showed me.”
Before his second stint at UMES, Townsend served as Director of Athletics at the University of Buffalo for 12 years and spent his last two years there as Associate Vice President for Student Affairs. Townsend has also previously served as athletic director at fellow MEAC schools, Florida A & M University and Delaware State University. In his stints as Director of Athletics he took the University at Buffalo from Division III to Division I in just three and one-half years. He was the first African-American AD in Buffalo history. He also took Delaware State University from Division II to Division I in his tenure there.
During the early part of Townsend's career he was a faculty member, counselor, vice principal and coach in the Worcester County, Maryland, School System, having served at Pocomoke High School from 1966-1971. Current Pocomoke High School director of athletics and state championship basketball coach, David Byrd played baseball for Townsend at Pocomoke High School. “He was a great man, I am sad to hear of his passing. He coached me to be more than a player and he was a role model for me, he inspired me to do my part in the community. He certainly did more than his share for the entire Eastern Shore.”
He was well-known and respected on the lower shore for service to youth and citizens of all ages; Townsend received several awards as Executive Director of Shore Up! INC. from 1971-1974.
Townsend had over 40 years of experience as a director of athletics and administrator in education at both the collegiate and secondary levels. His administrative experience spans athletics, student affairs, educational support services and secondary education. He holds degrees from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) (BS), Salisbury University (M.Ed) and Temple University.
Townsend has been a leader in sports and educational administration at state, national and international levels. He has occupied significant leadership roles in intercollegiate athletics, international sports and even at the level of Olympic administration. While at the University of Buffalo, Townsend served as chairman of the NCAA Olympic Liaison Committee. In that position he was named as an active member of the United States Olympic Committee. From 1991-1993 Townsend traveled extensively to such places as Germany, Canada, Bulgaria, France, England, and Spain in preparation to host the World University Games in Buffalo in 1993. The games, using the University as the major site, marked the only time that this event has been hosted in the United States. With 105 nations competing, The World University Games are considered the largest international sports event other than the Summer Olympics. For his effort and leadership in these games Townsend was awarded “The Buffalo Achievement Award” in 1993.
He was inducted into the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
Townsend in a native of the Eastern Shore's Horntown, Virginia. At the time of his death he was living in Tallahassee, Florida with his wife Diane. They have four adult children, Tracy Lynn, Marc, Eugene and Eboni as well as numerous grand-children.
News reports surfaced yesterday morning that he had collapsed on his way to an 8:30 a.m. meeting and was rushed to the hospital. FAMU spokesman, Jimmy Miller confirmed that he was taken to the hospital before the start of the meeting.
Townsend took over at FAMU for Kellen Winslow who had resigned in December. This was his third stint as AD at Florida A&M, having served in the position in the late 1980's and again in 2005 through 2007. Always relishing the chance to serve in a profession he loved, Townsend said “this is not a new spot for me, I've been in this position before and I cherish this opportunity because this time it's an opportunity to serve in this capacity at a time when this university needs to move in the direction Dr. Mangum has laid forth.”
Outpouring of support came from the Tallahassee, Florida, area. FAMU President Elmira Mangum told local media yesterday that he was a compassionate human being.
"The university lost a dear friend, excellent leader and administrator," she said in a statement. "We will miss Nelson Townsend. We join his wife and family in mourning this great loss."
The Rev. R.B. Holmes, Townsend's pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist church, said, "he was a great man. A great family man. A caring man. A blessed man. He went out in the way he wanted to go out, doing what he does as a director and a strong Christian man. We're all devastated, no doubt about that. We know Dr. Townsend is definitely in a better place. We pray for his wife and his children."
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum also released a statement yesterday regarding Townsend's death.
"R. Jai and I are both saddened to hear the news of Nelson Townsend's passing this afternoon. Nelson was a community leader with a deep passion for the growth and development of student-athletes. His storied career spanning over three decades in collegiate and international athletics, as well as educational administration, is a testament to the dynamic and benevolent person he embodied to those around him. His contributions to FAMU Athletics and to our greater university community will be greatly remembered and appreciated. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family."
The Tallahassee Democrat released a story this morning saying that a funeral will take place at noon Wednesday in Gaither Gymnasium on Florida A&M's campus. A viewing will start at 10 a.m. The family told the newspaper that funeral's time and place are subject to change. There is no word yet on a service near his hometown here on the Eastern Shore.