Townsend was born in Estancia, N.M. She spent her first few years living on the family’s bean farm until her father went into the dairy business in 1941. Living on a dairy farm kept Townsend busy.
“Cows have to be milked twice a day, 365 days a year,” she said. “If the electricity went off, everybody went to the barn [to milk.]”
It also kept her father from being drafted to serve in World War II, because he was providing a necessary commodity for the town in which they lived.
“We bottled raw milk and delivered it to town, which was about eight miles away,” Townsend said. “We did that for many years until pasteurization came into play.”
After graduating from high school, Townsend spent a year studying music at Eastern New Mexico University.
“I was in chorale, took piano lessons and was in concert band,” she said. “Music was just kind of my thing.”
Townsend spent the next few years in Albuquerque, N.M., where she worked for a bank. She then moved to Santa Fe and took a job with another bank. There, she reconnected with her husband, Ray Townsend. The two had initially met while in college. “Three years later, we decided that we were supposed to be together, so we married in 1956,” Townsend said.
At that time, her husband worked for the railroad, so the couple moved around quite a bit. They spent a year living on a farm, followed by time in Alamogordo, N.M., when Ray was working at Holloman Air Force Base on the missile program. During their time there, the couple had two daughters.
In 1965, Ray was transferred to the missile program in Green River, Utah. For the next several years, the family bounced around between Moab and Blanding before finally settling in Moab for good.
“We moved back here in January 1968,” Townsend said. “We’ve been here ever since.”
Townsend kept herself busy, working for Moab National Bank, an insurance company, Atlas Minerals, and the Grand County School District.
“I worked at the high school and middle school doing financial records for the activities for 12 years,” she said.
In 1982, Townsend mounted her first campaign for the position of Grand County Clerk. She didn’t win that year, but she wasn’t discouraged. She ran for the clerk’s office again in 1986, won the election and held the position for the next 20 years. During that period, Townsend ran unopposed and was re-elected five times.
Townsend was the county clerk in 1993 when voters elected to change the Grand County form of government from three county commissioners to the current seven county council members.
“It was a challenge because some of the things that were implemented within the new form of government were not really cohesive with Utah law,” she said. “So it was difficult to put that into place when we didn’t have the law backing us up.”
Townsend says that when she took the helm at the county clerk’s office, things were much different than they are today.
“Things were still being done on... the huge black ledgers that covered your whole desk,” she said. “Most of the bookkeeping was still done by hand.”
Townsend said the entire office had one Apple computer that was used for elections.
In her time as county clerk, Townsend oversaw the implementation of a punch card voting system, as well as updating to a more modern computer system. As clerk, her job encompassed a wide range of tasks, including taking minutes at the Grand County Council’s meetings, keeping records, overseeing local elections, and paying all the county’s bills.
She also had authority to issue marriage certificates and conduct marriage ceremonies.
“I did a lot of weddings,” Townsend said.
She explained that, because of the area’s unique scenery she was called on to oversee several ceremonies during her time in office.
“That was a real fun part,” she said. “To me that was a real privilege.”
After 20 years as an elected official, Townsend retired from office, deciding in 2006 that she was ready for her daily life to slow down a little.
“I’m very grateful that it was my choice to retire,” she said. “It was such a privilege to be able to give back to the community that had given so much to me.”
Even though she is now retired, Townsend still keeps busy. She plays piano for the Grand County High School musicals each year. Currently, she is attending practices for the upcoming GCHS drama club production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
She also plays for the Order of the Eastern Star, an organization that’s affiliated with the Masonic Order. She has been the “Grand Organist” for that group four times.
“Music is a big part of my life,” Townsend said.