Joseph M. Townsley Sr., 73, president of Teamsters Joint Council, volunteer


Joseph M. Townsley Sr., a former president of the Teamsters Joint Council No. 62, and a frequent volunteer, died Saturday of complications from diabetes at Franklin Square Hospital. The Perry Hall resident was 73.

Mr. Townsley was born and raised in the 1400 block of W. Baltimore St., the son of a union blacksmith whose shop was across from the B&O; Railroad's Mount Clare yard.

"I've been around unions since I was a kid. I was in a union man's family," he told The Evening Sun in 1978, at the time of his election as head of the Teamsters Joint Council, which is an amalgamation of the 11 locals in Maryland. He retired in 1984.

He was 15 years old when he left city public schools to help support his family. His first job was weighing packages for the Consolidated Delivery Co. at Hollins and Parkins streets. He was fired for attempting to organize the company's workers for the Teamsters.

Before World War II, he joined the merchant marine, serving in the South Pacific until being drafted by the Navy in 1941. A baker, he spent the war years in the Pacific theater until being discharged.

In the mid-1940s, he went to work for Kress Farm Dairy, later acquired by Koontz Dairy, as a helper on a milk truck.

In 1954, while a cheesemaker for the dairy, he established and served as the first president of the Kress Farm Dairy Independent Union, which he brought into the Teamsters in 1955.

He was later secretary and treasurer of Local 937, Milk and Ice Cream Drivers and Dairy Employees, and was elected president of the union in 1968.

Elected head of Teamsters Joint Council No. 62 in 1978, Mr. Townsley was given the sobriquet "Mr. Clean of the Teamsters."

The joint council mediates jurisdictional disputes among the locals in Maryland and coordinates their lobbying and political efforts and serves as a liaison between the Eastern Conference of the Teamsters and the International Brotherhood.

"He was probably one of the most outstanding labor leaders in Maryland in the 20th century and was probably the only Republican labor leader we've had in the state," said Helen Delich Bentley, former U.S. representative and U.S. maritime commissioner. "He headed Teamsters Joint Council No. 62, which is a major labor organization. He was a conservative yet fair person.

"Joe was the first one to help if there were other labor organizations on strike. He was the first one there to lend a helping hand."

Described by The Evening Sun as a "hearty, affable and outgoing guy," Mr. Townsley also had been the Teamsters' lobbyist in Annapolis.

In 1968, he was shot five times with a .38-caliber handgun by a hooded attacker after leaving a union hall on Erdman Avenue.

He suffered wounds in his left shoulder and elbow, and took two slugs in his right arm. The final bullet lodged in his right buttock.

"He shot real slow, and that guy was aiming at my heart," he said in the newspaper interview.

During surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, doctors removed four bullets from his body, leaving the one in his buttock.

After spending seven weeks recovering in the hospital, he went home, and one morning several weeks later, the bullet fell to the floor.

Mr. Townsley retired from the Teamsters Joint Council in 1984 and continued serving as the Teamsters' legislative representative in Annapolis until 1987. He worked for the American Ambulance Co., managing the Greenspring Avenue branch, until retiring a second time in the late 1980s.

"He was a very strong family man," said Mrs. Bentley.

"His youngest daughter, Kim, was born with cerebral palsy, and he spent hours and hours working with her. It was a very wonderful, wonderful thing," she said.

Mr. Townsley spent years volunteering with the Boy Scouts, the March of Dimes, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the children and pediatric oncology centers at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center, where a room was named in recognition of his work there.

"He didn't have any leisure time. He was either working at home or with his charities," said his wife of 52 years, the former Alma Anna Deckert.

He was a member of St. John's Lutheran Church in Parkville, where services were held Tuesday.

Mr. Townsley also is survived by a son, Joseph Martin Townsley Jr. of Sykesville; three daughters, Carol Ann Paulshock, Patricia Ann Dunn and Kimberly Ann Townsley, all of Perry Hall; a brother, Robert Townsley of Eldersburg; a sister, Norma Getz of Lansdowne; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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