A Tribute to Paul Townsend
May 9, 2005
May 1 2005
Members and Friends:
On Saturday morning about 3AM Paul Townsend succumbed to a long illness at his home in Bellport. We regret the loss of a great friend.
What a great experience it has been knowing Paul, as many of us did. Personally he gave me a lot encouragement, knowing of the impact that Paul had on the place where we live. And he was an example, by his actions, by his writing, and by the projects and the issues he supported. He was a visionary of the magnitude that is rare.
As a result of the vision Paul possessed, there are hospitals, whole communities, and transportation systems that would either not be built, or used in a less desirable way.
According to his wife, Terry, his proudest achievement was the creation of the Fire Island National Seashore. As one of those many people who have visited those parts of Fire Island that can only be visited by ferry, I agree. When Robert Moses’ power was at its zenith, Moses wanted to put a roadway down the spine of Fire Island. This would have removed all the communities from the island and destroyed the Sunken Forest and the other wilderness areas of the island. Moses was “unstoppable” he had the most power of any public official that this region has ever known. Paul Townsend organized the fight to stop Moses. Townsend and his associates proposed that the federal government should create a National Park. By going to congress and pointing out that this fragile barrier beach should be kept in its natural state where it still existed, and retaining the existing communities, this area would comprise a wonderful park. The argument sold, and Fire Island National Seashore was created.
It was that kind of resourcefulness that was a hallmark of his approach to achieving great goals. His leadership at LIMBA championed the revitalization of the Pilgrim State Hospital. The hospital had been vacated years before and the otherwise substantial buildings were in disrepair. Paul worked to encourage business and government to save that resource, and a culinary school, housing, and a court complex was established.
There was a time that Islip MacArthur Airport was so underutilized that the plan was to close it. Paul, again, under the LIMBA banner, mounted a campaign to keep Islip MacArthur Airport open. We called “use it or lose it.” Today it is hard to imagine not having that facility for Long Island.
Paul worked hand in hand with wealthy Long Islanders and encouraged so many of them to do the good works that make Long Island a great place to live. Hospital, colleges, and many service organizations have benefited by Paul’s intervention. Those generous people that supported Paul’s community building activities became his closest friends. Today the tradition of supporting community activities is very much alive on Long Island, and a lot of the credit goes to Paul.
I could literally go on for pages, but I just wanted to share some of my feelings, and my deep appreciation of this man’s life, as well as my personal affection that I feel for my friend.
I’ll close with this personal story. In 1988 Paul and I had an appointment to visit Webb Institute to look at vessel designs for a new ferry. We were walking from our car in a heavy cold drizzle in April. I suddenly realized that Paul was not walking next to me. When I turned around, I saw Paul standing by a flower bed. I said to Paul “What’s wrong” he said, “nothing I was just admiring these flowers, they’re beautiful.” I said, “Yes, they are, let’s get inside, out of the rain.”
A few days ago I got an email from Terry telling me that Paul was not doing well. I visited him and we talked about things I was working on. After a while I said “I should go now I’m making you very tired.” He said “no. I’m interested, I think of these things all the time.” Before I left him I told him how important he had been to my life, and the affection I felt for him. I thanked him for everything. He smiled and thanked me for coming. It was our good bye, and I think we both knew we may never speak to each other again.
I said good-bye to Terry and left the house. I ordered a beautiful spring bouquet from the florist in the village noting that they were from all his friends at LIMBA. Terry emailed me, thanking me for the flowers and the visit. She told me that Paul loved the flowers. I knew he would.