Lucky Genes — Nelson born John Townsend celebrates 100th birthday
He got a TV when he was 65 and stopped driving when he was 97.
Now the next big event in Nelson born John Lindsay Townsend’s life is his 100th birthday on Wednesday (October 29), to be celebrated with five generations of Townsends at the Newland Golf Course in Langley.
The youngest at the party will be 11 months.
And he says he owes it all to “lucky genes.”
Townsend was born in Nelson two and a half months after Britain declared war on Germany in 1914.
The oldest of four children, he was the first one of the Townsend clan to finish high school.
Any complaints that Central School on Stanley Street is ancient are well founded: it was the first school Townsend attended as a kindergartner. He went on to Trafalgar for middle school and completed high school in a building that is long gone.
“I was never much for sports,” said Townsend. “We went hunting, fishing for kokanee and silver rainbows and hiking,” he said. “The fishing was something else then. The limit was 25 fish from Cottonwood Lake!”
His dad, Harold Townsend, had a contract with the W.W. Powell Company to deliver scrap match wood blocks to customers in Nelson, and that was where John’s employment began after high school. The scrap blocks were used to heat homes.
But he started his first real job in 1932 in Victoria as a Fuller brush salesman with a couple buddies—that lasted for two weeks!
“He says he could have done better but people were struggling to make ends meet during the 1930’s Depression,” recounted his daughter Sheila Charlton.
Back in the Kootenays, he landed in Trail at what is now Teck Cominco, then CM &S (Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company) and married the love of his life, Mary Coupland in 1938 on his 24th birthday. He was boarding at her parents house when they met.
How’d that go, an anniversary and birthday on the same day?
“I never paid too much attention to the anniversary, I cared more about my birthday,” he mused.
Together the couple had three children and raised them in Castlegar, where Townsend built a small home that grew as his family did. He worked in the boiler room at CM &S and was well aware that the company was making the valuable heavy water for the atom bomb in World War Two.
“It was top secret stuff,” he remembered. “We all were fingerprinted and there was lots of security. I was called for service, but I got a deferment every six months because I was working at the smelter.”
Townsend continued his career as a tradesman, leaving Trail for other general and metal trades work, moving to Vancouver in 1958 and eventually worked for Dominion Bridge.
His boss, Joe “Red” Irving, remembered him fondly. No spring chicken, Joe just celebrated his 103rd birthday at Jubilee Manor in Nelson.
His face broke into a warm smile when he thought of John Townsend. “He is a very nice man,” said Irving. “Yes, he can be funny, if you tell him the right joke.”
When asked what birthday advice he had for his longtime friend, he laughed again: “He’s a 100 years old, I wouldn’t give him any advice,” he said.
As the world changed, John went with the flow. “I’ve been pretty satisfied all my life,” he said.
He was always occupied, never thought he needed a TV until he was 65 and still doesn’t watch it much.
“I always had something to do around the house. There’s always something to do when you own your own home.
“I just thought it was the thing to do. I watch the odd movie and I try to watch the news every day.”
Some of the Townsends’ happiest times were when he and his wife packed up the station wagon, hitched up the Boler and took off for parts unknown in Canada, the most memorable in Alaska, Yukon and NWT.
“So much of Canada is beautiful.”
They would often dilly-dally on their trips his daughter said. “They would just find interesting things to see and do.”
Mary Townsend passed away in 2005. Thanks to his good friend and neighbour Earl Warren, a mere 80, the widower lives by himself in an apartment building in Vancouver.
So what’s it like to be 100? “Not much different than 99,” he quipped.
“The worst part is the deterioration of my body. “I have a bad back and that gives me a bad time. Other than that, I’d be in pretty good shape.”
No more smoking for John Townsend, that may be one of his secrets to long life, but “I don’t think there a day that goes by that I don’t enjoy a good drink.”
Happy Birthday, John. Have one on us.