“Bryan was one of the nicest guys who ever lived,” said Ralph Hood, who first met Townsend in 1982 when they were both “would-be speakers.” “I had been at it longer, and I was his mentor, but the truth is he never needed one. He was one of the best.”
Townsend was a member of the National Speakers Association, earned the designation Certified Speaking Professional, and was one of the elite speakers inducted into the NSA’s Speaker Hall of Fame, also receiving the coveted CPAE designation.
“He was one of my best friends,” Hood said. “Among speakers — he was my best friend. He was just an A-one type guy. He was a star, one of the stars of the industry.”
Phillip Van Hooser said he first met Townsend in 1993 at an NSA convention.
“I was introduced to Bryan by another Alabama speaker, Bob Mann,” he said. “My first impression was he was a kind, genuine, authentic person. He brought me right into the group and a friendship was forged right from that very moment.”
Van Hooser said that friendship grew over the last 19 years.
“We traveled together and spoke at the same programs,” he said. “I had him at my house on many occasions, and he had me at his house. Our families got to know each other well.”
Van Hooser said as a professional speaker, Townsend was one of the most articulate, genuine and audience-centered speakers he knew.
“He was just brilliant on the platform,” Van Hooser said. “He was a family man. I never saw him anything but loving and genuine and totally committed to his family. He would do anything for them — they were his universe.”
Van Hooser said Townsend was also a man of great faith.
“He was just totally committed to the Whosoever Will (Men’s Bible) Sunday School class he helped form,” Van Hooser said. “He was just passionate to reaching out to men who never had a relationship with Jesus and who were not church-oriented. Once they came into his class, he tried to show them Jesus loved them regardless of their past. I think they saw Jesus’ love for them through the love Bryan had for them.”
Van Hooser said the community has experienced tremendous loss with Townsend’s death.
“His friends will all tell you he was the best friend someone could have,” he said. “Bryan was the big brother I wish I had. I feel he was a brother and would have loved to call him blood brother.”
Tommy Spears said he attended Townsend’s Sunday School class for three-plus years.
“The way he taught Sunday school, as opposed to being on a pedestal and preaching down, he was just one of us relating ideas in a way we could understand,” Spears said. “I knew him before I began attending his class, but really got to know him well after I started attending Sunday school. I understood what a fine, good person he was. His presentation of his lesson each Sunday was down-to-earth and he gave real-world examples that made it understandable and absorbable. He will be missed tremendously. He will be very hard to replace, not only as a teacher but as a good example of someone to emulate.”
Jeanne Robertson said she was one of seven speakers, including Townsend, who belonged to Platform Professionals.
“We worked together closely and were in monthly contact with each other,” she said. “We would refer each other for speaking engagements.”
Robertson said Townsend was very easy to work with and didn’t over-promise.
“I would go to speak at a place Bryan spoke at the year before, and the meeting planners would say, ‘You will have to really go some to beat the speaker we had last year.’” she said. “I heard it all the time — how wonderful he was.”
Robertson said she doesn’t think Townsend had an enemy.
“He was well-loved by everyone,” she said. “He was the same person off the stage as on stage — what you saw was what you got.”
Robertson said Townsend never tried to be the center of attention, but would wait his turn and speak his mind, keeping the group on track.
“He also turned down paid work each summer to work with Carpenters for Christ,” she said. “He truly, truly made a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
Those people include Townsend’s family.
“Not many men can leave this world knowing that they finished the job that the Lord sent them here to do,” Townsend’s son Lee said. “My father touched so many people’s lives in such a positive way, and did so with humility and a servant’s heart.
“God give me the courage to be half the man he was. Allow my children to know the unconditional fatherly love that I have been blessed to know every single day of my life. Allow my wife to look into her husband’s eyes and know without question, without hesitation that she is the one and only girl of his dreams. … With the same conviction that my mother could. Let me approach life with his childlike wonder, his selflessness, and his hunger for adventure.
“My hero has gone home. His often counsel I can no longer seek. I am both honored and blessed to have been born of such humble greatness.”
Townsend is survived by his wife, Judy Townsend; his sons, Jim Townsend and wife Angie and Lee Townsend and wife Tina; his daughter, Patti Anne Chastain and husband Justin; his mother, Idell Townsend; his brother, Jodie Townsend; his sisters, Jan Armbrester and husband Joe Tom and Terri Ferguson and husband David; and his grandchildren, Cody, Lauren, Savanna, Braxton and Suzy.
He was preceeded in death by his father, J.T. Townsend.
Visitation will be 5-8 p.m. Monday at Usrey Funeral Home in Talladega.
The funeral service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church Talladega. Burial will follow in Oak Hill Cemetery