Local pediatrician lauded for expertise, compassion


Tom Ed Townsend M.D. of Pine Bluff was said to be a gifted medical professional who also cared deeply for the children that he treated in his pediatric practice at the Children’s Clinic located near Jefferson Regional Medical Center.

Townsend, who died Friday in Pine Bluff at the age of 88, was respected throughout Arkansas and beyond for his professional expertise.

Dr. Horace Green worked with Townsend at the Children’s Clinic for more than 35 years.

“I enjoyed working together with him and we became very, very close friends during that time,” Green said. “His younger daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are patients of mine. We went through many, many experiences together. He was a colleague, friend and mentor.”

Green said that Townsend was a leader in the field of Arkansas pediatrics.

“Arkansas Children’s Hospital presents the Tom Ed Townsend Award for clinical excellence to a clinic in the state every year and our clinic won it in 2010,” Green said.

“He always loved to talk and always had a fascinating story to tell about a family or a patient or his own family,” Green said.

Dr. Bryan L. Burke, who worked alongside Townsend for five years, is a specialist in the field of neonatology at Children’s Hospital in Little Rock and is on the faculty of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

“I first met Dr. Townsend when I was a senior medical student,” Burke said. “I was told if I wanted to work with the finest pediatric physician in the state of Arkansas to get on his rotation. Truer words were never spoken. He is the best physician that I have ever known. That remains true to this day. He’s just the best.”

Burke laughed and said that it was almost frustrating that Townsend was the best pediatrician in the state and yet he never worked at Children’s Hospital.

“He is the only physician to have an award named after him here who never actually worked here,” Burke said. “That is just a result of how much Dr. Townsend was respected in the medical community. Besides the Tom Ed Townsend Award which has been given to the best private practice pediatric clinic in the state every year since 2007, we also award spots on the Townsend Service to the top attending physicians in the hospital.”

“He was one of the best diagnosticians you could ever imagine,” Burke said. “When he would introduce me to a patient at the Children’s Clinic he always introduced them to me as one of his favorite people and he meant it. He was just a gifted teacher. He made even the most lowly medical student feel like the king of the world. He corrected you gently if you did something wrong and praised you like you had done the best thing in the world when you did something right.”

Burke said that even though Townsend was from a small medical practice located in a small state he was respected throughout the country.

“He served on the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Health Care Financing and when I nominated him for the Alumni Award I had five different past presidents of the Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics second my nomination. One described Dr. Townsend as a national treasure which is something with which I truly agree.”

Kathy Harris, CEO and president of Southeast Arkansas Behavioral Healthcare System, said that Townsend was part of that organization’s creation.

“Dr. Townsend was a part of the steering committee that recognized in 1963 that this community did not have services to meet the needs of the mentally ill,” Harris said. “He and other community citizens began to address this issue and through that steering committee, many community meetings were held. By 1964 the original Family Child Guidance Center was developed.”

Harris said that Townsend served on the center’s board of directors from 1964 until his death.

“There was no break in his service to this institution,” Harris said. “He remained just as committed and passionate about the needs of community mental health in Pine Bluff as he always had been. He even participated in our weekly children’s staffing that brought the medical component into the treatment process.”

“He had a unique ability to add wit and humor to any situation but yet be very on point with significant and important issues,” Harris said. “He served on many committees within the organizational structure of the board. We already feel a loss.”

Walter Johnson, president and CEO of JRMC, remembers a friend of the hospital.

“I held Dr. Townsend in very high regard,” Johnson said. “He actually interviewed me almost 20 years ago and encouraged me to come to JRMC. He was always very supportive of the hospital and our medical staff. Dr. Townsend truly exemplified the term ‘gentleman’ and I will miss him.”

Townsend received the UAMS Distinguished Alumni Award presented by the Arkansas Caduceus Club in 1990 and was inducted into the UAMS College of Medicine Hall of Fame in 2004.

Funeral services will be Tuesday at 2 p.m. at First United Methodist Church. Interment will be held in Bellwood Cemetery by Ralph Robinson & Son Funeral Directors.