Clinton B. "Bill" Townsend
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Clinton B. "Bill" Townsend
Born in New York City in 1927, Clinton B. Townsend graduated from Milton Academy, served in the U. S. Navy, then attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
Townsend spent boyhood summers fishing in Annisquam, Massachusetts. The focus shifted during his teen years to brook trout in Vermont. During his 1953 honeymoon with wife Louise, he caught his first Atlantic salmon, in Nova Scotia's Medway River. By 1957, Townsend and his wife had settled in rural Canaan, Maine, where he began what he called his "love affair" with the Kennebec River, whose eddies, pools and riffles he fished for nearly 60 years.
While their family was growing up, Bill and Louise made certain that the children became well acquainted with Maine. They visited state parks, coastal forts, climbed mountains including Katahdin, and did a number of canoe camping trips. By the time Bill and Louise had become "empty nesters" there was hardly a corner of Maine that the family had not visited.
Over his lifetime, Bill fished for Atlantic salmon in Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Quebec; for 36 years running he fished for Atlantic salmon at the St. Paul's River in Quebec; he fished for steelhead trout in Alaska, British Columbia, and on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula; for brown trout in Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia; and for stripers and bluefish on the Maine coast, and in the chop off Cape Cod and at Montauk Point. On the Taku River in British Columbia during the 1980s, he caught "one of the most beautiful fish I have ever seen, a steelhead trout of about 20 pounds, chrome-bright with a pale green wash on its back and a brilliant red stripe down its side." He hunted waterfowl in Maine, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Vermont, New York, and Maryland.
Townsend made his living as a country lawyer. He served as prosecuting attorney for Somerset County in 1963-64 and again in 1967-68. He established a general law practice in Skowhegan, Maine, where he dealt with a wide range of matters ranging from personal injury litigation to mortgage foreclosures, estate planning and probate. His law partners included George Perkins, Warren Shay, and J. Michael Talbot.
Lawyering was his job, but his love was for the natural world. Among other rural skills, he spent time learning the art of horse-logging.
As a fisherman, farmer, hunter and woodlot owner, Townsend came to understand the need to act as steward for the natural world respectfully and responsibly. In the early 1960s, he became concerned about the many threats to the environment that he loved. Paper mills and cities and towns in Maine dumped industrial and human waste into his beloved rivers, while the state and forest owners doused deadly pesticides wantonly on the forests where he fished, hunted and camped with his family. Damming and development threatened fish and wildlife habitat.
So his sense of stewardship launched him on what became more than a half-century of environmental activism on the local, state, national and international levels. Townsend's success in leading some of the most consequential environmental battles in Maine and beyond owed much to his conservation ethic, imagination and intelligence but it also owed much to the patience essential to any fisherman. He could outlast his foes; and he used his humor to get himself and his allies through the rougher patches.
Townsend was president of the Natural Resources Council of Maine from 1965 through 1971, and was chairman and a board member of the Maine Chapter of The Nature Conservancy in 1972-78. He served on the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission in 1972-73, and on the Land for Maine's Future Board from 1988 through 1998 (he helped then-Rep. Pat McGowan in 1987 come up with the plan for the bond issue that became the Land for Maine's Future program). He was a member and chairman of the Maine Waterfowl Council in the late 1960s and early '70s, where he pushed hard to eliminate the use of poisonous lead shot for waterfowl hunting. He served on numerous state environmental task forces addressing water quality, energy development, oil spills, and the like.
President George H. W. Bush appointed Townsend as a United States Commissioner to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO), where he served from 1990 through 1994. He also served for 25 years on the board of the Atlantic Salmon Federation; was president and member of the board of Maine Rivers; and was a board member of Somerset Woods Trustees, Maine's oldest land trust.
He joined with others to fight and win battles against the construction of destructive dams, waged campaigns to save the endangered Atlantic salmon and helped devise the crucial conservation ordinance to carry out the state's shoreland zoning law.
He was an instrumental member of the coalitions to remove Augusta's Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River and to prevent construction of the Basin Mills Dam on the Penobscot River, both landmarks in river conservation and anadromous fish restoration. In 2003, Townsend, as the head of Maine Rivers, and by then in his mid-seventies, undertook to wage a decade long battle to restore the lowly alewife to the St. Croix River. He cared as much about this bottom-of-the-food-chain fish as he did for fancier species, because he knew its pivotal role in river life: everything in and around a river eats alewives. Because of his environmental activism he was dubbed "troublemaker" in 1998 by then-Governor Angus King. Indeed, his memoir of the almost 9 decades of his life bears the title Trouble Maker.
Townsend received numerous environmental awards, including The Downeast Magazine Award, the Sol Feinstone Environmental Award, the Atlantic Salmon Federation's Lee Wulff Award, the Gulf of Maine Council on the Environment's Visionary Award, the Maine Conservation Voters Harrison Richardson Award, and an honorary degree as Doctor of Environmental Law from Unity College.
Townsend had a collection of adages that he used to counsel his fellow conservationists, including "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." But, he cautioned that if you didn't make headway with "nice," then you should prepare for the ultimate battle. "If you intend to kill the king, be sure to kill the king," he'd say, meaning, "Don't go out there half-cocked you want to be able to finish the job you start."
Bill Townsend's world ranged from his backyard to international corridors of power. He could be found at the Canaan town meeting; he could also be found at the White House, where he delivered an Atlantic salmon to President George H. W. Bush. All that added up to a life that changed history in Maine, leaving a landscape preserved, fish populations rebounding, rivers running free and family, friends and even strangers whose lives were enriched by his presence.
As his wife Louise said, "Bill's the guy who showed up."
Bill's family is grateful for the gentle care he received through Maine General's hospice program and Spectrum Generations' Bridges home care. They saw him through the last days when he could not fish.
A celebration of Bill's life will take place at the Canaan Farmers Hall, 296 Main Street, Canaan, at 3:00 p.m. on January 6, 2017. In lieu of flowers, gifts in memoriam may be made to two of his favorite organizations, Maine Rivers, P.O. Box 782, Yarmouth ME 04096, or the Canaan Farmers Hall, P.O. Box 294, Canaan ME 04924.
Arrangements by Dan & Scott's Cremation & Funeral Service, Skowhegan.
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