The University Record, April 5, 1993

Harry Towsley had enormous impact on U, leaves many legacies

Harry A. Towsley, professor emeritus of pediatrics and communicable diseases and of postgraduate medicine, died March 31 at his home in Ann Arbor. He was 87.

When he retired from the U-M in 1971, Towsley’s record of accomplishments in pediatric medicine was described by the Board of Regents as “truly astonishing in its scope.”

When Towsley was elected to the Michigan Health Council’s Health Hall of Fame in 1970, he was cited for his lifelong commitment to “make Michigan babies the healthiest and Michigan doctors the best-informed.”

In pursuit of those goals, Towsley administered postgraduate medical courses in Ann Arbor and conducted medical seminars with a team of doctors throughout the state. He and his wife, Margaret, contributed much of the funding for the Towsley Center for Continuing Medical Education, which opened in 1969. The Towsley Center was conceived to meet the needs of community physicians in updating and acquiring skills and continues to do so.

In commenting on his passing, President James J. Duderstadt said: “Harry Towsley’s accomplishments and contributions are evidence of the enormous impact that one individual can have on an institution. He helped shape our history; he was part of it for over a half century. Scholar, teacher, care-giver, philanthropist, counselor, friend—Harry was all these things and much more. He leaves us a legacy of commitment, an uncommon gift for understanding how research can benefit so many and the determination to find ways to make new knowledge available to anyone.

“Harry had a special love for children. His wonderful family is testimony to his caring. But his family extended beyond Margaret and the children. Michigan children also were his children. He reached out to the children of our state and nation in leadership positions on literally dozens of advisory boards. He also played an important role in developing the Harry A. and Margaret D. Towsley Foundation into a significant philanthropic force. And among the many projects at the University of Michigan for which he provided leadership were the Towsley Center for Continuing Medical Education, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

“We will all miss Harry’s spirit of generosity, warm and close involvement with the University. The University has lost a special friend, but we are grateful that the evidence of his generosity will be with us for years to come. Anne and I extend our deepest sympathy to Margaret and the family.”

Towsley’s entire medical career, except for a residency in England and U.S. Army service, was spent at the U-M. Born in Midland, Sept. 15, 1905, he studied at Kalamazoo College and Michigan State University, and then entered the combined premedical and medical curriculum at the U-M, earning his medical degree in 1931. In 1934, after his internship and residency in pediatrics, he joined the staff as an instructor, rising through the ranks to professor in 1954.

“Dr. Towsley was a true patron of the Medical School and Medical Center,” said Medical School Dean Giles G. Bole. “His long-term commitments to physician education include ‘hands-on’ involvement with students, physicians in training and physicians in practice. In addition, he and his family were the generous contributors of the Towsley Center for Continuing Medical Education, which will stand as a constant reminder of his high commitment to medical education and practice.”

In 1948 Towsley also became involved in the extramural activities in postgraduate medicine, and in 1967 was named chair of that department. He retired from the U-M in 1971 but continued to maintain close contact with the Medical School.

“Dr. Towsley has long held a special place in the heart of the University of Michigan Medical Center as a physician and generous supporter of many special projects over the years,” said George D. Zuidema, vice provost for medical affairs.

“He spearheaded our relationship with literally hundreds of physicians practicing throughout the state. Our broad array of continuing medical education programs is an important legacy that has benefited not only many physicians and health care professionals, but helped bring improved care to the citizens of Michigan. This is a contribution which will continue to influence new generations of physicians and patients. We will miss Dr. Towsley in many ways. He was a truly unique and caring physician and a fitting role model for us all.”

Towsley also served as chairman of the campaign for the Furstenberg Student Study Center at the Medical Center and contributed generously to a continuing education center at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor. In addition, through personal and Towsley Foundation gifts, he funded an interdisciplinary program on child abuse that involved the School of Social Work, Medical School and Law School.

A charter member of the Washtenaw United Way Leadership Giving Association, he presided during his career over the Washtenaw County Medical Society, the Michigan Foundation for Medical and Health Education, the Michigan Health Council and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and also served on the board of directors of the Michigan United Fund. He was a trustee at Cleary College, vice chairman of the Catherine McAuley Health Center and Council, and a member of the Michigan State Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities.

Towsley is survived by his wife, Margaret Grace Dow Towsley; four daughters: Margaret Ann (Ranny) Riecker of Midland, Judith Dow Alexander of Ann Arbor, Susan Towsley Wyland and Lynn Towsley White, both of McLean, Va; 10 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a fifth daughter, Janis Elizabeth Poteat.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Catherine McAuley Health Center, Campaign for Elderly Care.