Sad news came to me today.
My elementary school librarian, William C. Towner, passed away.
Mr. Towner was the first person in the world to take seriously my solemn declaration in the third grade that I was “going to be a famous author when I grow up!” Without a moment’s hesitation, he took me over to a shelf in the library and showed me exactly where he will put my books.
I went back and examined that space many times before my time at Kimball Elementary School was over.
And as I grew into my life, I would go back to that moment with Mr. Towner — on his knees, pushing books aside to make room for mine, as though they were about to arrive on the next truck, and saying, “this is where I will put yours” — over and over again, and never tire of it.
It was a HUGE ambition for a frail little girl who was always sick and had one of the worst absentee records of all time and came from an impoverished immigrant home that pushed education, but did not, and could not, offer the support needed to make strange, wild dreams come true. Indeed, my parents considered any dream other than to become a doctor as strange and wild, and inappropriate.
So I clung to that moment with Mr. Towner. It was just a moment. I don’t remember having any other significant moments with him while I was a student. But that single moment was my life raft. It was my hall pass. It gave me permission to go down the hall that would lead to a life of reading, writing, books and dreams, all wild and true. It gave me my life.
Many years later, when I returned to Kimball with my first two published books, Mr. Towner did as he promised — he put my books on the shelf.
Thank you, Mr. Towner. Thank you, forever.
Here is his obituary from the Seattle Times:
William C. Towner
William C. Towner
Dec. 17, 1926 – Feb. 14, 2013
William Craig Towner was born in Auburn, Washington to Earl Mac and Aileen Craig Towner on December 17, 1926. The family moved to Seattle where Bill and his sister Beverly Jane attended Bryant Elementary and Roosevelt High School. Bill graduated in 1943 and went on to study at the University of Washington, earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in psychology. He was a member of Phi Kappa Sigma.
Bill also served as a corporal in the United States Army; he was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco where he served as a clinical psychologist working with veterans returned from WWII. While in the service, Bill made many life-long friends and also fell in love with San Francisco. After his discharge from the service, Bill joined the San Francisco Public Schools where he worked first as a school psychologist and then as a classroom teacher. During this time he forged lasting connections with his colleagues and with his students and their families.
Bill returned to his native Seattle in 1957 and joined the Seattle Public Schools. He worked as a consultant, was a classroom teacher at Harrison Elementary, served as librarian at Lake City Elementary and for a short time at Eckstein Middle School, but found his professional home when he took an assignment as the Library Media Specialist at Kimball Elementary School on Beacon Hill.
“Mr. Towner” touched the lives of hundreds of children and their families during his tenure at Kimball. One of the things he was most proud of was building a library collection that reflected the experiences and many cultures of the children at Kimball. After his retirement in 1996, Kimball renamed its library “The William C. Towner Library Media Center” in Bill’s honor.
Bill also served for many years as adjunct faculty at Seattle University and the University of Washington, teaching courses in Children’s Literature and library science. Again, his love of reading and his belief that children should have access to literature that helped them grow as human beings and feel proud of themselves were his touchstones in his work.
Bill was awarded the Washington Library Media Association’s Library Media Specialist of the Year award in 1990. He also received a Golden Apple Award from the Seattle Public Schools for his dedicated service to the children and families in the Seattle Public Schools.
Upon his retirement in 1996, Bill focused more of his time on his work with the Guild for Psychological Studies, traveled to the Middle East and Europe, returned to his piano playing, and of course, read, read, read.
Bill also loved his role as father and spent every evening (and many afternoons) reading aloud to his three girls from the time they were born all the way through high school. Bill also shared his love of music – classical and jazz-his love of dance, cooking, good food and conversation with his girls and his dear friends.
Bill is survived by his sister Beverly J. Brewster (Glen), daughters Melissa S. Minjares (Victor), Hilary D. Gilkinson (Grant), Jennifer L. Towner, and grandchildren Max and Leo Minjares, and Katie Gilkinson.
The family would like to thank the staff in the Health Center at The Hearthstone for their loving care of Bill over the past year.
A celebration of Bill’s life will be held at 3:00 pm, Friday, March 1st at University Christian Church, 4731 – 15th Ave NE, Seattle. The family suggests donations to the Hearthstone Health Care Center (www.active.com/donate/hearthstone), Kimball Elementary School (3200 – 23rd Ave. S., Seattle, WA 98144, Attn: Anne Fitzpatrick) or KPLU (www.kplu.org).
Published in The Seattle Times from February 23 to February 24, 2013