The University of North Florida community was dealt a crushing blow in June with the loss of J.T. Townsend, a spring 2013 graduate and member of the UNF family since 2006.
Townsend, 26, died of a suspected heart failure, though a cause has not yet been released. Hundreds gathered at a public memorial service at the UNF Arena to honor the life of a man who touched the hearts of so many. Dr. Kris Webb, director of UNF’s Disability Resource Center, said her staff is exploring institutional opportunities to honor his legacy as a tireless advocate for those with disabilities through a scholarship fund or some other type of lasting memorial that will benefit other students.
“A word I've used to describe him is ‘grace,’ and he is truly one of the most graceful people I've met in my life, as shown by his relentlessly optimistic approach to life,” Webb said.
Townsend was a budding football star at Jacksonville’s Episcopal High School in 2004 when he suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury during a game. The on-field incident might have claimed his mobility, but nothing could stop Townsend’s drive.
He started his own non-profit organization, the J.T. Townsend Foundation, in 2011 to provide financial assistance and adaptive equipment to other people with disabilities living on the First Coast. He also majored in sport management at UNF, where he became especially close to the staff of the Disability Resource Center.
Webb said it was a joy watching Townsend develop as a student — maturing from a reserved freshman to a confident and self-assured graduate.
“Once he discovered his learning prowess, he also discovered the impact he could have on the regional community,” Webb said. “He really began to come into his own once he formed his foundation and began to conclude his studies. We spent many years working together, but I never heard that young man utter a single word of complaint. He was an absolutely remarkable human being.”