James Joye Townsend Sr., a pediatrician who played a key role in the 1970s and 1980s turning Wolfson Childrenâ€™s Hospital into a consolidated center of excellence to serve the regionâ€™s children and families, died Thursday. He was 86.
Wolfson had been founded in 1955 as a wing of what was then called Baptist Memorial Hospital. Beginning in about 1971, a group of local pediatricians began working to make Wolfson a regional pediatric medical center. Dr. Townsend was a major influence in that long and successful project. That was part of a larger goal of the physicians of that era, to make Jacksonville a center of excellence in all areas of medicine, said his son, James J. Townsend Jr.
â€œDr. Townsend was a real â€˜gentlemanâ€™ pediatrician,â€ said Thomas Chiu, past chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville. â€œHe was instrumental with other senior pediatricians in uniting pediatric health care in this community and always worked for what was the best for children and Wolfson Childrenâ€™s Hospital.
The success of the neonatal, cardiac and critical care programs would not have been accomplished without his leadership and support.â€
Dr. Townsend served for years on Wolfsonâ€™s Board of Trustees and as Wolfsonâ€™s chief of pediatrics. Wolfson named him Physician of the Year in 1989.
Growing up in Jacksonville, Dr. Townsend was fascinated by the water, said his son. He played in the marshes on the Westside and spent his summers at the beach, where he worked as a lifeguard and taught himself to surf on a board he found abandoned on the beach. During World War II, when German submarines lurked just off coast, he was one of the teenagers who worked as spotters, looking for flares that would show some vessel was in trouble. That love of the water stayed with him all his life.
â€œHis last days were spent looking at the creek, Fishweir Creek, looking at the river, feeling the breeze,â€ his son said.
Dr. Townsend attended Lee High School, where he starred on the track team and served as president of his senior class. Then he went to Duke University, both as an undergraduate and as a medical student. He met his wife of 61 years, Kitty, while riding the train to Duke.
After an internship at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, he served in the U.S. Navy as the only doctor at the Naval Ammunition Depot in Charleston, S.C.
Following military service, he completed his residency at Wake Forest, and then, in 1961, moved back to Jacksonville where he joined the growing pediatrics practice of Hayes McCain and Moss.
What made him an effective pediatrician was â€œa deep love and I think empathy for children and their parents,â€ his son said. â€œ… He was very warm, very open, very friendly. I can remember listening to him on the phone late at night, talking to young mothers dealing with kids for the first time. He was very easy to talk to.â€
After he retired in the early 1990s, Dr. Townsend and his wife spent lots of time traveling, visiting their four children who had scattered across the country and their 12 grandchildren.
â€œHe was a wonderful man,â€ said Molly Mcrae, who grew up with Dr. Townsendâ€™s children and whose husband, Jesse Mcrae, practiced medicine with Dr. Townsend. â€œHeâ€™s going to be missed.â€
He is survived by his wife, Catherine Brittain Townsend, and four children, James Joye Townsend Jr. of Washington, D.C., Thomas Kingman Townsend of St. Louis, Mo., Catherine London Townsend of Dallas, Texas, and Amanda McConnell Townsend of Colorado Springs, Col. He is also survived by 12 grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Hardage-Giddens Oaklawn Chapel. The service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at Riverside Park United Methodist Church, 819 Park Street. A private grave-side service will follow a reception at the church.
Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413