In Memoriam: LSTM Professor Harold Townson (1942-2020)

News article 25 Jun 2020

It is with deep regret that LSTM has learned about the death of Emeritus Professor Harold Townson. 

Harold was involved with LSTM since 1963 and made a major contribution to LSTM through his work in the current Department of Vector Biology and in a number of senior roles, including a period as interim Director. 

LSTM Director, Professor David Lalloo, said: "I will remember Harold as extremely knowledgeable, friendly and kind; like many others, I was the beneficiary of his advice and support in my early days at LSTM. Even after his retirement in 2005, he visited LSTM frequently, helping out with various tasks, offering a listening ear to staff and welcoming new staff members with a friendly word of advice."

Born in 1942, Harold Townson was involved with LSTM since 1963 when he enquired about PhD positions with LSTM. It resulted in a career based in Liverpool stretching over 42 years and beyond. He held numerous posts within LSTM, most notably the Selwyn-Lloyd Chair of Medical Entomology from 1994 to 2005, when he retired. 

He gave his first lecture to the DTM&H class in 1965 and jointly launched a statistics course for MSc students before gaining his PhD. He subsequently became Lecturer in Medical Entomology in 1967. He continued with laboratory research on genetic aspects of filariasis vectors and gained valuable field experience visiting vector-borne disease projects in Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Cameroon. 

A key formative period was spent as Senior Lecturer in Parasitology in the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, between 1972 and 1974. This was followed by a period of laboratory research based in Liverpool and field research in West Africa, funded by the Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP). 

Working in Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone, he and his group provided key operational information to OCP, often on a weekly basis, enabling it to focus control more effectively. He also pursued studies of genetic factors influencing the ability of mosquitoes to transmit filariasis. This led to an involvement in establishment of the Wolfson Unit of Molecular Genetics in 1981 and interests in DNA-based tools for studying mosquito vectors. 

For a 20-month period in 2000-01, Harold Townson was interim-Director of LSTM prior to Professor Janet Hemingway's arrival. It took him repeatedly to South Asia - Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka - and to South-East Asia, particularly Vietnam and Indonesia, but the transmission and control of malaria in Africa remained an abiding interest. 

After his retirement Harold resumed part-time work, lecturing and supervising the last two remaining PhD students of a total of 31 during his entire career. LSTM's Head of the Vector Biology Department, Professor Martin Donnelly said: “Harold had an extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge of vector-borne disease and was extremely generous with his time to both colleagues and students. Even in retirement he attended the weekly, student-led, journal club and provided fascinating historical and contemporary insights. On a personal level I will be forever grateful for Harold’s mentorship and friendship.  ”

Professor Harold Townson was also President of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (RSTMH) from 2001-2003 and Editor in Chief of RSTMH's Transactions from 2004 to 2008. 

LSTM wishes to send its sincere condolences to Harold's wife Pam and his family.