Dr Townsend was the first to enrol at UWC in 1980 for his degree in dentistry, which he did over five and a half years. His wife Liesl followed suit in 1984 to pursue studies in social work.
“I met Rory in 1981 through friends who were studying at UWC,” Mrs Townsend recalls. “Rory lived in Lotus Road, Lansdowne and I had to pass his house every Wednesday and Friday on my way to music lessons. He would ‘conveniently’ come to check the mailbox at the exact time that I would be passing by.” The not-quite-by-chance meetings led to a marriage of 30 years blessed by two daughters – Zoe, 27 (a professional performing artist) and Jesi, 23. Jesi works at UWC as a digital communications officer.
There was no escaping political involvement on campus in the 1980s and Mrs Townsend joined the Student Union for Christian Action. During June 1986, she was arrested for attending a protest commemorating the Soweto uprising of 1976. She says, “Inasmuch as the boycotts and unrest were an inconvenience in my study programme, I would really not have had it any other way or to have studied at another university.
“Due to student unrest and boycotts in 1987, I wrote my final exam a week before my wedding in December 1987. It was hectic!” she remembers.
After qualifying, the Townsends went on to successful careers. Dr Townsend was a private, public and academic dental practitioner from 1985 to 2010 when he switched to a career as a self-taught freelance multimedia specialist. Mrs Townsend worked for the Eastern Cape Department of Health and Welfare, the Family and Marriage Society of South Africa, as a private practitioner for Leap292 and for the Careways Group. She is currently a Client Relations Manager for Metropolitan Health Corporate.
The couple credits UWC for their success. “I have an immense pride in being a Bushie,” Dr Townsend says. “It gave me the confidence to know that irrespective of the lack of opportunities in life, you have to make it happen. I truly attribute all my professional and sporting achievements in part to my UWC foundation.”
Mrs Townsend agrees. “It does not matter what has happened in your life, your circumstances, your unique situation. I believe each person holds the key to the answer to their problem. As a counsellor, I assist and enable them to find that key. All of the subjects I did enriched me as a person as they made me question stereotypes, enlightened and raised my political awareness and also inspired me spiritually.”
The Townsends have visited their alma mater frequently in recent times and have been impressed with the massive redevelopment. “It makes me so proud to be a UWC graduate. The expansion of the Dental Faculty is incredible, not to mention the enormous campus compared to when I was there,” Dr Townsend says.