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1984 Indiana governor candidate Wayne Townsend dies

July 3, 2015

Wayne Townsend, the 1984 Democratic nominee for Indiana governor who broke a barrier by picking a woman as his running mate, died Friday at age 89.

Townsend died during a family trip to Michigan, said Ted Waters, the owner of Waters Funeral Home in Hartford City. He had been suffering from a heart disease for the past year.

Townsend was a hog farmer in northeastern Indiana's Blackford County and was first elected to the General Assembly in 1958, serving at various times in the House and Senate before winning the Democratic nomination for governor in 1984.

He surprised many with his selection of Indianapolis lawyer Ann DeLaney as the first woman candidate for lieutenant governor in the state's history. Townsend lost to Republican Gov. Robert Orr, but came within 5 percentage points even as Republican President Ronald Reagan carried Indiana by 24 points.

DeLaney said Friday that Townsend's decision to pick her as his running mate was an important milestone for the state.

"He was a farmer and a Quaker and you wouldn't expect from his experience that he would be as tolerant and as open to change and diversity as he was," DeLaney said.

Townsend is credited with casting the tie-breaking vote in the state Senate in 1977 for Indiana to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which ultimately failed to win approval from enough states to be added to the U.S. Constitution.

Townsend told The Indianapolis Star in a January interview that he decided after a call from first lady Rosalynn Carter that he couldn't vote any other way.

"You believe in the cause or you don't, and I did," Townsend said. "The problem was people saw ghosts that were not there."

Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly called Townsend "an outstanding Hoosier public servant."

"I was inspired by Wayne's dedication to his community, state, and country and consider it an honor to have spent time getting to know him and learn from him," Donnelly said in a statement.

Townsend served more than 20 years in the General Assembly until not seeking re-election in 1986. He then spent 15 years on the Board of Trustees at Purdue University, from which he was a 1951 College of Agriculture graduate.

A major issue of the 1984 governor's race was Townsend's call to overhaul the state's system for motor vehicle license branches, which were then controlled by the county chairman of the governor's political party with profits going to the party.

"They hired their brothers and brothers-in-laws and sisters-in-law and they rented out space they owned at whatever price they thought they could get away with charging," said DeLaney, who later became state Democratic chairwoman. "Because Wayne focused attention on it and made everyone aware of it, it got cleaned up."

Townsend's survivors include his wife, Helen, and their four sons and one daughter, said Bill Moreau, a longtime family friend. Funeral services were not immediately scheduled as of Friday, Waters said.

Townsend was diagnosed last year with amyloidosis, a rare disease affecting the heart, said DeLaney, who visited him several times in recent months

"He was always very upbeat and wanted to talk about politics, wanted to talk about the future of Indiana," she said. "He was always looking ahead."
 

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