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Guy M. Townsend III

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Guy M. TOWNSEND III Brigadier General USAF (retired) Guy Mannering Townsend III was born in rural Mississippi on October 25th 1920, the fourth child of Anne (Heard) and Hugh Townsend. While truly a son of the deep south (he never lost his southern accent), he considered it his good fortune to leave depression era Mississippi and attend high school and college in Texas due to the efforts of his cousin 'Aunt' Ada Stevens. His time as an undergraduate at Texas A&M was cut short in 1941 by the looming war. He left college and joined the Army Air Corps. Guy flew 450 combat hours 'driving' B-17s and B-29s in the South Pacific theater. He returned stateside in 1945, married Jean Sheffield (Hainline) and began both his career in the Air Force and his family. Cold war military strategy and the dawn of the jet age shaped his 29 year Air Force career allowing him to ply his skills as a pilot, test pilot, and program director. The list of the projects that he had his hand in reads like an almost complete list of the major military aircraft of the mid 20th century. When asked to recount his achievements in aviation he invariably shifted credit to those with whom he worked. He loved his troops and was respected and relied upon by his superiors for his dedication, integrity and humility. He loved being an American and was proud to play a role in the hard work of defending his country. Guy's love of the Pacific Northwest began in the late 1940's working as an air force representative for Boeing military projects, it only made sense that his second career would be with the company that made his favorite airplanes in a part of the country that he loved. When he retired from the Air Force in 1970 he left behind many of the traditions of the military. He preferred to be called Guy rather than General, his children soon started to call him 'Da' rather than 'Father' and in keeping with 70's fashion he grew sideburns and a handlebar mustache. The family moved to Mercer Island, the place that would be his home for the next 40 years. Work in the civilian world allowed him time away from the office and he began to take annual fishing trips by float plane to the northern Canadian and Alaskan wilderness. His passion for flying shifted from jets back to propellers. He co-owned a series of small aircraft until failing eyesight forced him to turn in his pilots license after 64 years aloft. While he was famous for flying bombers and other 'straight and level' aircraft, ironically the last plane he piloted was a tiny bi-wing stunt plane that required a parachute and was appropriately marked 'for experimental use only'. In contrast to his prior exploits Guy's third career attracted little recognition. It was as a father, husband and friend that he quietly revealed the depths of his heart and the gentle force of his conviction. Guy and Jean divorced in 1987 and he retired from Boeing a year after. Those closest to him couldn't imagine him without his work, but Guy didn't miss a beat; he simply approached retirement with the same focus he brought to aviation. With quiet persistence he operated under the assumption that parenting is a lifetime obligation and maintained a steadfast presence in the lives of each of his children and grandchildren. His involvement with the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, The Quiet Birdmen (QBs) and Rotary provided an outlet for the intellectual energy which typified the final decades of his life. Guy met Ann Smith at Mercer Island Presbyterian church, she recalls him giving her a wink when she handed him the collection plate. They married in that same church on June 10, 1990. The union of the Smith and Townsend families grew strong nurtured by the kind devotion they shared for each other in their 20 years of marriage. Raised in a Christian home Guy was an active church member throughout his life. There is no doubting his trust in God and his belief in a life beyond death. Early in the morning of March 28, after a day surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren, Guy passed with the same quite strength and dignity that was his calling card. He was preceded in death by his brother Hugh, sisters Virginia Stallworth and Lucy Provosty, stepson Jim Smith and son Guy V. He is survived by his wife Ann, stepsons David (Edie Harding), Bill and Bart (Bridgie); his children Cynthia, Rebekah (Peter Bonow), Hugh (Sandra) and Tom (Peggy Nelsen) and grandchildren Joshua, Jeremiah, Luther, Amelia, Guy VI, Sophia and Bishop. A memorial celebrating Guy's remarkable life will be held on April 18 at 2:00 at Mercer Island Presbyterian Church, 3605 84th Ave SE. It was his request that his ashes be interred in both the garden of remembrance at Mercer Island Presbyterian Church, as well as spread by plane over the Cascade Mountains. In lieu of flowers the family requests contributions in his name be made to The American Macular Degeneration Foundation, Rotary International or the Covenant Shores Benevolence fund. Details of Guy's career in aviation are detailed in a wikipedia biography under his name.
Published in The Seattle Times on Apr. 10, 2011
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