IN MEMORY of Sarah (Liza) Rowland Townsend, JD, MSW

Sarah Rowland Townsend, a member of our Board of Directors and an extraordinary human being, died at her home in Kansas City, Missouri on November 26.

When Liza (as many of us knew her) was younger, her father, Landon Rowland, would send her articles from the Hastings Center Report, British Medical Journal and JAMA. She devoured them. If the C grade in biology as an undergrad at Smith College hadn’t discouraged her, she said she would have applied to medical school.

Liza graduated from Smith with a BA in art history, worked in New York City for a brokerage firm and UMB Bank in Kansas City, enrolled in law school at the University of Kansas, married Guy Townsend, and was pregnant with her first child when she passed the bar in 1993.

Navigating Healthcare

She devoted the next 18 years to raising three children and volunteering in the community. During that time, family illnesses necessitated a deep dive into the healthcare system and sparked a desire to learn more about what she could do to improve it.

“As a family, we have resources,” she said. “But people who lack resources, or meaningful access to resources, how do they do this? I began to focus on the ways policy might impact more positive interactions with the healthcare system that would lead to better health outcomes.”

The master’s in Social Work degree she earned from the University of Kansas in 2017 and especially the practicums that went with it offered Liza the opportunity to pursue this goal.

At reStart, Liza worked with adults with chronic homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues. “The clients face paralyzing obstacles,” she said, “and yet they press on.”

Professionalism in Healthcare

Liza traced a direct line from her practicum at KU Family Medicine to her participation on the Center’s task force to review methods for teaching and evaluating medical students’ professional behavior and likelihood to succeed as doctors. At the KU Clinic, she said, “I saw what I thought good healthcare looked like, what poor healthcare looked like, and the impact that communication with medical professionals has on patients and their health.”

Liza and her husband Guy Townsend were in middle school when they met at rehearsals for the The Mikado. Both grew up in families for which giving back to the community was a given. “It’s just what you do,” she said.

Before joining the Center’s Board in 2017, Liza’s volunteer efforts supported Turning Point, Child Protection Center, Voter Protection Project, ACLU, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Harriman-Jewell Series, Kansas City Ballet, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, American Royal, Pembroke Hill Alumni Executive Board, St. Paul’s Episcopal Day School and Smith College Club of Kansas City. In addition to the Center, she currently serves on the board of Fountain Valley School of Colorado.

Daughter, wife, mother, attorney, social worker, arts advocate and civic leader, Liza will be remembered for giving her whole heart to the people and causes she cared about.

In lieu of flowers, Liza’s family has generously asked that donations be made to the Center. We are humbled and grateful.

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