Dr Mike Townsend: a tribute
Dr Mike Townsend, the serving chair of trustees of Torch Trust, died in hospital in Antigua on 28th November 2023 aged 76. Travelling with his wife Edith, Mike had been on a ‘holiday of a lifetime’ cruise through the Caribbean when he became critically ill.
Mike lost his sight completely when he was eight. His education was in residential special schools. In his teens while at Worcester College, Mike encountered Christians among his fellow students and his rock-solid Christian faith became the foundation of his life from then on.
He shattered most of the expectations for the life of a totally blind person. For him nothing was ruled out. The only question was ‘how?’ That question, posed on behalf of others, lay behind much of what Mike gave himself to. In partnership with Edith, his equally remarkable wife, he served others, tirelessly seeking to make the world a better place, especially for blind and partially sighted people and people with other disabilities.
Mike pretty much always came with a guide dog! Back in 2005 on the morning of the 7/7 bombings Mike was on his way to a meeting in London. Guide dog Tom refused to follow their familiar route and pulled Mike onto an entirely new route. He heard an explosion but had no idea what had happened. Later he realised that had they proceeded as normal he would have been near the place where a woman was killed by the bus bomb.
Mike served many years as a trustee for Guide Dogs and also for RNIB. Bringing a Christian voice to the table, he was influential and widely respected. With his professional background in the world of computing and his lived experience, Mike became an authority on access and assistive technology and was a trustee and ex-Chair of TAVIP. He was always available to help people with sight loss cope with the gadgets that have become a boon to them.
His association with the Torch Trust, a Christian charity that focuses on the support and encouragement of blind and partially sighted people, continued throughout his life, initially as a volunteer, later as its technical director and as a trustee, and most recently as chair. In recent years he has been instrumental in helping Torch to adapt to a changing world and find a new sense of stability and direction.
Singer-songwriter Marilyn Baker – also blind – recalls:
"He was human, humorous and adventurous – a larger than life character who loved bringing people together."
She and others recall his supportive friendship and remark on his
"enthusiasm for life and appetite for new things, always having something to contribute".
Mike died doing something he loved: travelling. Much of the travel came in the course of his service with various sight loss and disability organisations and initiatives. Mike kept the score: with his final cruise he had visited 135 countries!