It is with a heavy heart that I am writing this special message to SESAH members, friends, and supporters. As many of you have already heard, longtime SESAH member Dr. Gavin E. Townsend recently passed away on June 3, 2018. Gavin had been diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer only a few days earlier, and died at his home in Chattanooga surrounded by his family. All who knew Gavin were stunned by the devastating news and have been mourning his loss, particularly his students and colleagues at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where Gavin taught art and architectural history for over 30 years.
After spending the first part of his life in California and New York, Gavin landed in Tennessee in 1986. A member of SESAH since 1987, Gavin served as the Tennessee representative on the SESAH board of directors from 2007-2012 and as our Treasurer and membership chair since 2013. Gavin chaired the 2010 SESAH conference in Chattanooga, which was remembered by many for our adventures in chasing down the elusive Richard Neutra-designed Livingston House. He presented scholarly, yet always entertaining, papers on his work at our conferences and published articles in our journal, ARRIS. Gavin was also an advocate of historic preservation, and served on the board of Cornerstones, Chattanooga’s local preservation nonprofit, from 1998-2003, and Tennessee Historical Commission’s State Review Board from 2000-2010. He led campaigns, often behind-the-scenes, to document and save architectural landmarks across his adopted hometown of Chattanooga.
From 2014-2018, Gavin served as the Tennessee coordinator for the SAH Archipediaproject, a labor of love that he completed on behalf of SESAH along with fellow SESAH board members Claudette Stager and myself. Together, we selected 100 architectural landmarks that best represented the Volunteer State, and then set out to visit each one with cameras and notebooks in hand. As part of the SAH Archipediaproject, Gavin traveled to Memphis, Knoxville, Jellico, and all over southeast Tennessee – tracking down iconic and little known architectural jewels that tell Tennessee’s story. Gavin often had his wife, Bonnie, in tow on his long road trips across Tennessee.
Last year, Gavin and I also served as co-authors of the Tennessee Green Book poster project, which documented over 200 historic African-American roadside landmarks under the leadership of fellow SESAH members Catherine Zipf in Rhode Island and Susan Knowles at MTSU. All the while, Gavin simultaneously kept SESAH’s books, balanced our budget, maintained the membership roster, created the conference registration forms, paid the bills, grew our savings, and maintained a thousand other tasks that kept our little all-volunteer nonprofit organization up and running. A model example of service work in action, Gavin wore many SESAH hats. He always maintained his trademark wit, charm, and humble personality. Gavin will be sorely missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.
This Saturday, June 16, a Memorial Service for Gavin will be held at the Patten Chapel located at 615 McCallie Avenue on the UT-Chattanooga campus. The service starts at 3:00pm EST with a reception following at the historic Patten House located at 801 Oak Street. In lieu of flowers, Gavin’s family asks that you make a donation to the SESAH Gavin Townsend Memorial Fund at the link below.
In closing, I wanted to inform our members that the 2017 edition of ARRIS is hot off the press and should arrive in your mailboxes from SCAD in the next couple of weeks. And, we will soon share information on how to register for the 2018 SESAH Conference in Manhattan, Kansas. Conference chair David Sachs and his committee are wrapping up the details on what promises to be yet another superb SESAH “family reunion.” We look forward to seeing you in Kansas.
If you do not receive your copy of ARRIS or if you have questions about the conference or Gavin Townsend Memorial Fund, please contact me at SESAH1983@gmail.com.
Robbie D. Jones