Barbara Townsend

MU Professor dedicated her life advocating for Community
Colleges as Distinctive Institutions

Barbara K. Townsend, MU Professor of Higher Education, was
one of the top and most respected scholars in the country on community

Dr. Townsend was born January 28, 1944, in Philadelphia, PA
to Vivian Edna and Robert Townsend. She
graduated from Watertown New York Senior High School in 1961. She received her bachelor’s degree in English
in 1965 and a master’s degree in English honors in 1967 from the State
University of New York at Albany. She
married John Lilga in 1964. Their only
child, Robert Townsend Lilga, was born on August 15, 1968.

Between 1972 and 1976 she completed all requirements for a
doctorate in medieval English, except for the dissertation, at the University
of Maryland. She then taught Basic
English and Freshman Composition at Towson State University in Maryland from
1974 to 1976. Between 1976 and 1984 she
taught Developmental English and Study Skills at Thomas Nelson Community
College in Virginia. While working
full-time at the community college she pursued a doctorate in higher education
administration at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, a degree she
completed in 1984. She moved to Buffalo,
New York where she became a visiting assistant professor in Higher Education
Leadership at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1984 to
1986. She then worked at Loyola
University in Chicago for several years where she became associate dean and was
promoted to associate professor. From
fall 1993 through fall 1998 she moved to the University of Memphis where she
was promoted to full professor, became department chair for 3 years, and served
as associate dean for 3 years. In
January 1999, she moved to the University of Missouri to join the department of
Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis as a full professor where she served
as the Director for the Center for Community College Research.

Between 1976 and 2009, Dr. Townsend authored or edited 10 books
and special journals, published over 40 empirical articles, and made over 100
presentations including some in Hong Kong and Shanghai. The primary focus of her research was the
community college, especially its transfer mission and more recently its movement
to offer an applied baccalaureate degree.

Dr. Townsend was the recipient of numerous professional
awards including the 2009 American Educational Research Association’s Division
J Eminent Scholar Award and the Council for the Study of Community College’s
Distinguished Service Award. In 2009 she
was presented with the University of Missouri Status of Women Committee’s Distinguished
Service Award.

Dr. Townsend was one of the first scholars in Higher
Education to write about the field of Higher Education, Community College, and
Feminist Research. She mentored and
advised numerous students across the country who currently are professors and
administrators. Former students stated
that Dr. Townsend supported them and challenged them to become better scholars
and professionals. She cared
meticulously about the precision of her writing and the quality of her
research, qualities that she taught her students. She inspired and brought out the best in
them. Her colleagues in the College of
Education appreciated her tireless dedication to their success and the success
of her department.

She is survived by her husband, Norman C. Gysbers; her son,
Robert T. Lilga of Temple Terrace, Florida; a half-sister, Anne Maldoon of
Casper Wyoming; and a sister, Shari LaMay of Summerfield, Florida. She is also survived by a step
daughter-in-law, Cheryl Gysbers of Harrisburg, Missouri and her children
Melissa and Justin; a step-daughter, Debra Landes and her children, Kaitlin and
Samuel of Overland Park, Kansas; and a stepson, Daniel Gysbers and his wife,
Kathy and their children Jackson, David, and Emma of Columbia, Missouri.

Dr. Townsend was a member of Calvary Episcopal Church.

Memorial services will be held 2:00 p.m., Saturday, June 20,
2009 at Calvary Episcopal Church with the Rev. Paula Robinson officiating.

In lieu of flowers,
contributions can be made to the Barbara K. Townsend Memorial Scholarship Fund,
114 Hill Hall, College of Education, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo 65211.


  1. Florence LaLonde Heldt on June 18, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    My condolences to the family of Barbara, a 1961 classmate of mine. I remember her with fondness, as a lovely and gifted young woman. Her obituary points to that in outlining her wonderful accomplishments. I am sure that her legacy will long be remembered by her students and collegues alike. God speed, Barb.

  2. Michael T. Martinez on June 19, 2009 at 5:49 am

    I was one of Dr. Townsend’s students in the Professoriate. She was a model of what she taught — a great professor. My prayers are with Dr. Townsend’s family.

  3. Robert Luebbers on June 19, 2009 at 8:13 am

    On behalf of the U-High Lives web site, that honors the high school were Norm Gysbers was our respected Guidance Counselor, I extend condolences to Barbara and Norm’s extended families.

  4. Valerie Goodin on June 19, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Norm, I was saddened to learn of Barbara’s death. Sending you the strength of friendship to see you through this time.
    Valerie Goodin
    Living & Learning
    in Thailand

  5. Ann Korschgen on June 21, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Dear Norm,
    It was such an honor to have known Barbara and to have worked with her. In fact, one of the special experiences of my life is the lunch we had together in February–the day she entered hospice. She shone with such serene courage. I will always remember that.
    I am making a donation to the scholarship fund in her name so that future students will continue to benefit from Barbara.
    Kindest regards,
    Ann Korschgen

  6. Tara S. Farmer on June 23, 2009 at 10:16 am

    I remember Barb fondly from our years in high school, as well as our years in college in Albany together. Her dedication to our chosen profession of education is evidenced by her many respected accomplishments. My family’s thoughts and prayers go out to Barb’s family at this difficult time.

  7. Jennifer Gore on July 9, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    I was saddened to just learn of Dr. Townsend’s death. She was my advisor while receiving my MA in ELPA. I greatly respected her academic achievements and the rapport she possessed with her students. My condolences to her family.

  8. Amanda Frevert on September 11, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    I was blessed to have had Barbara for the past few years. She was a client of mine that I saw almost every week for 3yrs! She was one of the most professional women I have ever had the privilege to know. She encouraged me to finish my associates for awhile. I’m glad to say with a little push from her I’m back in school and will have my degree in less than a year. I never really knew all the amazing things she has done till after she had passed. Somehow, I knew she was amazing anyway, it really shined through. She will forever be my heroangelfriend.

  9. Michel Davis Robinson on February 9, 2011 at 10:20 am

    I did not know Dr. Townsend at all. But I am someone who enjoyed reading her research and promotion of community colleges. As a doctoral student in education with an emphasizes on community colleges I found Dr. Townsend’s writings on community colleges very helpful in my own research. I contacted Dr. Townsend’s office 3 years ago requesting an interview from her on dual enrollment. Without hesitation I immediately gor a call back from her agreeing to talk to me. She called me from her home and was most helpful, warm and open in answering my questions. I was so honered and now I now blessed to have had the opportunity to talk with her. I just found out today of her passing. I am sadden by this news. God bless all who knew and miss her.

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