Science magazine published this retrospective on the life and career of James G. Townsel, co-founder of the MBL Summer Program in Neuroscience, Excellence and Success (SPINES) and MBL Society Emeritus Member.
By Rae Nishi, Byron D. Ford, and John Hildebrand
James “Jim” Garfield Townsel, a neuroscientist who devoted his life to diversifying the field, died on 22 June. He was 84. Jim made valuable contributions to the field of neurotransmission through his research, but he is best known for his unwavering focus on eliminating racial health disparities by mentoring underrepresented trainees and supporting their scientific advancement.
Born on 9 September 1935 in Albemarle, North Carolina, Jim grew up in the inner city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He graduated in 1958 with high honors from Virginia State University (VSU), where he majored in biology and participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. After working in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps, he began graduate school, a transition made possible by Richard Dunn, a botanist at VSU who, as Jim put it, “rolled boulders out of my way and was committed to my success.”
After earning his Ph.D. in physiology at Purdue University in 1968, Jim was recruited immediately to the faculty of VSU. In 1971, he accepted a postdoctoral traineeship at Harvard Medical School in the laboratory of neurobiologist Edward Kravitz. Jim’s experience at Harvard galvanized his passion for neuroscience. In 1973, he accepted an assistant professorship at Meharry Medical College, a historically Black medical school in Nashville, Tennessee. He later moved to the University of Illinois at Chicago to administer its Urban Health Program. In 1984, he returned to Meharry, where he was a professor and chair of the physiology department until his retirement in 2010. Read more …