Remembering Professor Leroy B. Townsend
Leroy B. Townsend, Albert B. Prescott Emeritus of Medicinal Chemistry and professor emeritus of chemistry, died on October 15, 2022.
Born on December 20, 1933, Leroy was raised in Bronco, Texas. Early on he showed a love of education and graduated High School at just 16 years old. He spent his youth working on the family farm, rodeoing and later wildcatting as the derrick man on oil rigs in the west Texas desert plains.
From west Texas, a football scholarship took him to New Mexico Highlands University. Leroy completed his B.S. degree in 1955 with a double major in chemistry and mathematics. He then completed his M.S. in chemistry in 1957. While at New Mexico Highlands he also met and later married Sammy Beames.
After graduation he volunteered for duty in the U.S. Navy's Officer Training School. Following commissioning as an officer, he volunteered for the very challenging one-year training program to become a deep sea and SCUBA diver and underwater ordnance disposal expert. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Mulberry which was an ordnance recovery and diving ship with the only floating double lock decompression chamber on the West Coast. His initial duties were restricted to being the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (E.O.D.) and diving officer. However – following a pattern to be repeated several times in his professional career – even though Leroy came aboard as the lowest ranking officer (ensign), he served in essentially every department on board the ship and left the Navy in 1960 as the ship's commanding officer. His service on the USS Mulberry was with distinction as Commanding Officer and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Dive Officer.
Following his four-year Navy career, Leroy obtained his Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry from Arizona State University in 1965 under the mentorship of R.K. Robins.
He then began his professional career at the University of Utah in 1965 as an assistant research professor and the assistant director of the Cancer Chemotherapy National Service Center. In 1975 he was promoted to full professor in medicinal chemistry and chemistry. In 1979 he moved his research group to the University of Michigan where he was Professor and Chair of Medicinal Chemistry in the College of Pharmacy and Professor of Chemistry in the College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts (LS&A). He worked at the University of Michigan until his retirement in 2000, although he continued as Professor Emeritus to mentor, do research and publish into 2003.
Leroy had a long and distinguished career as a heterocyclic and nucleoside chemist. He also worked extensively and collaborated in biology, biochemistry, parasitology, and virology. He was commended for his work discovering drugs which may be used to treat a diversity of conditions, including parasitic diseases, cancer, herpes, and AIDS. One of the drugs for which he was co-inventor was recently approved in the U.S. and Europe for the treatment of cytomegalovirus infections. Leroy had a great ability to lead and inspire students and collaborators with his considerable knowledge in both chemistry and relevant biology. He was dedicated to his students and to teaching. His Saturday morning research group meetings were a virtual institution with his students and postdoctoral fellows.
Along with his students and collaborators he published 593 papers, many of which were applied to problems in infectious disease and cancer. He is also the holder of more than 200 patents. In addition to his active research program, he was dedicated to the field of medicinal chemistry. He held virtually every office in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry of the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the International Society of Heterocyclic Chemistry. He founded and co-founded other scientific societies and is the author and editor of several book series. He received numerous awards including The ACS Smissman Bristol Myers Squibb award, the Getrude Elion Award for lifetime achievement from the International Society for Antiviral Research, induction into the ACS Hall of Fame and many honorary degrees. In 1993 he received the Distinguished Faculty Award for the University of Michigan from the Michigan Association of Governing Boards of State Universities. Leroy was the Albert B. Prescott Professor Emeritus of Medicinal Chemistry, College of Pharmacy and Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, College of LS&A, University of Michigan. In 2003 the Leroy B. Townsend Medicinal Chemistry Graduate Student Fund was established to honor his distinguished career.
Leroy retired to Sedona, Arizona where he enjoyed a busy and full retirement with Sammy. He volunteered with many community groups, including the Rotary and local food bank. He especially enjoyed his 14 years of volunteering with the Sedona Police Department and the many friends he made there.
In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to the Leroy B. Townsend Medicinal Chemistry Graduate Student Fund to help continue his legacy in the world of medicinal chemistry.