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Donald Phillip Townsend dies at 61

Donald Phillip Townsend, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran who became a licensed thoroughbred horse breeder, died Nov. 29 from complications after blocked blood vessel surgery at St. Joseph Medical Center.

The longtime Keymar resident was 61.

Mr. Townsend, the son of a stationary engineer and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown.

After graduating from Patterson Park High School in 1967, Mr. Townsend was drafted into the Army in 1968 and served as an infantryman with the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam.

He was decorated with two Bronze Stars for "bravery, diligence and devotion to his country," said his wife of 28 years, the former Robin Armstrong, who is principal of Elmer Wolfe Elementary School in Union Bridge.

A brother, Jerry Townsend of Gray, Tenn., said, "When my brother came back from Vietnam, he was different. He was scarred by it and I don't think that he was ever actually able to put it behind him."

Mr. Townsend's interest in horses began when he was 6 years old and his father purchased two horses.

"Our father worked at the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard and did a lot of shift work. My mother complained to him that he wasn't spending enough time with us, so he went out and bought two racehorses — Tombsmith and Our Champion — for $300. That was 1956," said Jerry Townsend.

When their mother discovered that their father had purchased the horses, she was less than enthusiastic.

"She said, 'What are you doing? We're city people,'" said Jerry Townsend, who is host of "Talk'n Horses With Jerry T," a weekly radio show broadcast from WSSM-FM in Bristol, Tenn.

Their father stabled the horses with a friend who owned the Wagon Wheel on Moravia Road, and each day Jerry and Donald Townsend went down to care for them, and continued to do so after the horses were moved to Timonium Race Track.

The elder Mr. Townsend ran his two horses at small Maryland racetracks until he sold one and finally retired Our Champion in the early 1960s to a farm in Pennsylvania.

"I went onto college and did other things, but [Don] stayed with our father. Don started out at 6 working with horses, and that's all he ever wanted to do," said his brother, who continued to own horses with his sibling. "It was a relationship that I cherished."

Mr. Townsend and his wife met in the late 1970s when he was affiliated with Woodstock Stud, a world-renowned consignor of Standardbred horses, as a barn manager.

"It was the love of horses that pulled us together," said Mrs. Townsend.

The couple established Autumn Venture, a 14-acre farm in Keymar, where they raised and trained thoroughbreds for clients, foaled mares and rehabilitated injured racehorses.

"We did everything at the farm together. There are no left-handed pitchforks here," said Mrs. Townsend, who is also a licensed horse show official, with a laugh.

Mr. Townsend was a licensed thoroughbred racehorse trainer in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and New York.

"Donald was the youngest person to ever be licensed at the age of 21 in Pennsylvania. In those days, they were very strict about licensing anyone who wasn't a veterinarian," said Larry Ward, a cousin, who was reared with Mr. Townsend.

"He was one of the most liked and respected of men," said Mr. Ward, who is president and owner of Holabird Tire Co.

"He was a terribly nice guy and was always around," said Lucy Acton, editor of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, formerly Maryland Horse. "He was always smiling and very pleasant."

Mr. Townsend was a longtime member of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, and in 1998 he and his wife exhibited the Grand Champion Thoroughbred Yearlings at the Maryland Horse Breeders Association Yearling Show.

In addition to his work with horses, Mr. Townsend was a skilled mechanic who also repaired automobiles at his Keymar farm.

For a decade until joining Holabird Tire Co. as vice president and chief operations manager earlier this year, Mr. Townsend had worked for the Gettysburg Auto Auction.

"He was a wonderful manager and was great at keeping up employee morale," said Mr. Ward.

Mr. Townsend enjoyed spending time with his family and enjoying the farm that he and his wife built together.

Services were Saturday.

In addition to his wife, brother and cousin, Mr. Townsend is survived by a half-brother, Sal DiStefano of Westminster; two half-sisters, Josephine Croucher of Bel Air and Angel Fiedler of Baltimore; and many other nieces and nephews.

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