John and Marree Townsend’s commitments to UNC-Chapel Hill over the years have been both plentiful and purposeful — and none more so than their most recent $10 million gift to the College of Arts & Sciences to establish the Townsend Family Strategic Initiatives Fund and the Marree Shore Townsend Fellowship in the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. This gift was part of the Carolina couple’s $50 million investment, which kicked off the public phase of the University’s Campaign for Carolina last October.
The Townsend Family Strategic Initiatives Fund, which will provide continuous support for the College’s highest priorities over the next 10 years, was born from conversations with Dean Kevin Guskiewicz and learning about his formal strategic plan for the College, “A Road Map to Boldness.”
“Kevin’s strategic plan is tied to real outcomes, which he has clearly articulated,” John (English ’77, MBA ’82) explained. “This vision gave Marree (political science ’77) and me the confidence in him to use our gift where it would have the most impact.”
Guskiewicz put the Townsend’s gift to work right away, sending 20 more students on study abroad experiences.
Funds from the Townsend Family Strategic Initiatives Fund will also be used to cover recruitment and salary for a fixed-term faculty member in art photography. Students majoring in studio art can focus on art photography, a concentration area that is growing in popularity. In addition, part of the Townsends’ gift will support digital humanities projects over the next two years. Faculty and students will have access to materials and records of human cultural activity that were once available only to specialists.
When recalling the first time he took John and Marree through one of the BeAM (Be A Maker) makerspaces on campus, Guskiewicz noted, “I could see their eyes light up.”
“Their gift will support the programming and the graduate students who help keep the operations of BeAM going,” said Guskiewicz.
In addition to strategic initiatives, the Marree Shore Townsend Fellowship in the Institute for the Arts and Humanities is providing Julia Haslett, an assistant professor in the department of communication, with support to pursue her work on a film about environmental conservation and British botanical exploration in southwest China.
Faculty fellowships are critical in recruiting and retaining the best faculty. John, a member of the IAH Advisory Board, established this endowed fellowship in Marree’s honor, which he presented to her on her birthday.
“It’s an incredible partnership with the Townsends,” Guskiewicz said. “Tying their giving to the areas that have the most return on investment is a testament to how much they care about the College.”
John is retired as a senior adviser with Tiger Management Corp., after more than 30 years in investment management and banking. Reflecting on his career, John speaks proudly of where he started out and eventually retired from — at companies founded by fellow UNC alumni. In 1982, after graduating from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School with an MBA, John went to New York to begin his career at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, an investment bank founded by Dick Jenrette ’51. From there he spent 15 years with Goldman Sachs before moving on to Tiger Management, a hedge fund founded by another prominent alumnus, Julian Robertson ’55. Marree owns Marree Townsend Interiors in Greenwich, Conn.
“Coming back to Chapel Hill and hearing what is going on firsthand is such an important part of my continued support of Carolina,” Marree explained. Her involvement as a member of the Arts and Sciences Foundation Board of Directors and John’s roles on many University boards, including as co-chair of the Campaign for Carolina leadership committee from 2015-2017, bring them back to campus several times a year.
A true Carolina family, John and Marree note that their fathers are alumni, as are their two daughters, Merritt ’06 and Louise ’09. John’s mother, Beverley Chalk Townsend, is also a 1953 graduate.
“Carolina is a place that we both love, and giving back is definitely a shared enthusiasm between us,” John said. “We have been extraordinary beneficiaries of our educations at UNC and it has been an important part of our lives and whatever success we’ve achieved.”
By Meredith Tunney