Lucille “Lucy” L. Townley, 92 of Dublin, OH passed away peacefully on Sunday, October 1, 2023 in her home with her children at her side.
Our mother was a ballet teacher. You don’t hear that every day.
A depression-era child, Lucy was born into a family of 8 children, the oldest of the second family of five. In her youth, Lucy entertained her parents and Rotary-type audiences with her tap dancing skills. At 14 years old, Lucy was earning money as a student teacher, traveling by bus to nearby towns, to teach tiny tappers entirely on her own.
At 18, Lucy moved to Burbank, CA to take tap lessons, attend a dance school for ballet, and study the emerging style of modern dance. Like a scene in a movie, she calls her mother long-distance from a pay phone, “Can I attend college?” Her mother’s reply before the dime clanks down the slot, “Yes, if that is what you want. Tell me what you need.” (Her mother, Marian Langdon, widowed at age 35 while Lucy was in junior high, was running the family’s scrap metal business on her own and would be named Idaho State Mother of the Year in 1952.)
Lucy graduated in Theatre and Dance from UCLA, having choreographed every university theatre production from 1950 to 1954. She is survived by her youngest siblings, Lorraine L. Hiskey and Danny G. Langdon, who are quick to credit her for raising them while their mother worked, and for setting an important example to go to college.
John Townley and Lucy were UCLA sweethearts and were married 65 years. When John was a young Navy midshipman at sea, Lucy returned to Twin Falls, Idaho to open her first school. Her school grew to 250 students and, as primary income-earner, the couple always credited her with the nest egg that kept them ahead of the financial curve as newlyweds.
Over the years, Townley School of Ballet has since allowed hundreds of young girls to discover grace and poise under Mrs. Townley’s direction. It is impossible not to refer to “Mrs. Townley” with the studio. In a nod to be professionally impartial, I was asked as a little girl to call her Mrs. Townley during ballet class, which I always did.
Mrs. Townley’s recitals were original ballet productions. Every year she would magically arrange her available talent into a show, casting the most senior girls into the solos or duets, and newer students into group numbers. Mrs. Townley made every student excited their dance would be a key part to the recital’s overall story.
The most extraordinary memory of having a ballet teacher mother was when I would walk in on my mother listening to classical LPs on our living room stereo while she ironed my father’s shirts. While the steam rose from the iron, she would invite me in, adjust the phonograph to repeat a certain stanza, and share her latest find. “Listen. It is the mice dancing with Cinderella.” Then we would listen, our heads together, as her index finger danced the beats in the air.
Mother hand-picked every piece of music in this manner to fit the story and the skill level of the class. She assembled the musical numbers together into a cohesive production, found flattering costumes, choreographed the dances to include new steps learned that year, and then concurrently taught the entire school their dances adding a step or two in each class across many weeks. It was a mind-boggling feat of creativity and logistics, and to see her repeat the process to create an original production every year was, well, inspiring.
Our family moved often to accommodate Dad’s 23-year career as a commanding officer in the US Navy. In addition to teaching at her studio, Mom was the quintessential 1970’s Navy wife, elegantly entertaining officers and wives in our house from silver casserole dishes. It would have been easy for Mom to get lost in the charismatic shadow of my “Yes, Sir” Navy father. But instead, Mom kept her sense of self with her ballet studio, remarkably recreating the school over and over at each port. And Dad in turn was her biggest supporter, building sets and serving as stage hand, lighting director, and crowd control manager.
Her most established schools in the Navy years were while stationed near Stuttgart, Germany (1968-1970) and Newport, Rhode Island (1970-1975). As you can only do in the 1970s, my mother ran the Rhode Island school in our basement, with recitals on the high school’s stage. My father was often deployed, so mostly she raised us single-handedly. I would come home from school, immediately go to the basement to check-in with her, waiting by the phonograph for her attention. I would find my leotard and tights, or swim suit, or the check for the piano teacher up on my bed waiting for me. Dinner was assembled in a dish or pan with an index card for my older brothers to “bake at 350 degrees” so we could all eat together after the last tutu left the house. I didn’t know how to describe my mom, other than to say she was a stay-at-home-mom who worked.
When Dad retired to a civilian career in Ohio, Mom showed us life is just beginning at age 50. She opened a large ballet school in Chagrin Falls and taught until she was 70 years old, noting these recitals were some of her finest works. In Chagrin Falls, Mom taught many girls from the first grade through their high school graduation. More than one student created a dance program at their university, and she was blessed that students of all levels continued to share their lives, marriages, and send her pictures of their own little ballerinas.
In the final 30 years of her life, Mom and Dad joked their last name should have been “The Out-of-Townleys” -- blessed with trips to the Amazon River, Egypt, Greece, an African balloon safari, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and dancing together with friends at least 20 jazz cruises. Those travels complemented our family’s years stationed overseas in Japan and Germany and the many travel destinations stored behind the click-clack of our 8mm home movies.
In those golden years, Mother was also graciously devoted to Meals on Wheels, Super Seventies, and the Alter Guild for St. Martins Episcopal Church. She loved entertaining with women’s groups, and was an active member of PEO, Questers and the BayView Club.
Lucy’s lasting legacy is mother to her three children: Mark Townley (deceased 1994), Mitchell (Karen) Townley, Kristen (Jim) McKenna; MamaLu to her five grandchildren: Kristen (Ben) Allender, Kim Townley, Molly McKenna, Jon Puckett, and Becky (Thomas) Emiren, and six great-grandchildren; and as the unforgettable Mrs. Townley to hundreds of ballet students worldwide.
It is an honor to be your daughter.