Donors Make a Difference: Mary “Lee” Townshend, CAS/BA ’62, MA ’66 


Illustra­tion by
Jaylene Arnold

Mary “Lee” Townshend

A commuter student who grew up near the AU campus, Mary “Lee” Townshend found her home away from home in the theatre program, landing leading roles in several student productions, including The Three Sisters and Playboy of the Western World. Offstage, she formed lifelong friendships with her fellow thespians and in 2004, many of them reunited on campus to recall their days at AU and meet current students pursuing degrees in theatre. 
“My experience at AU taught me time management. I was taking classes during the day and participating in productions in the evening, all while learning how to be comfortable presenting to a wide variety of audiences,” Townshend says. “It gave me a lifetime of poise and confidence.”
After graduating from AU, Townshend continued her education at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), earning her MFA in theatre and serving as a part-time faculty member, teaching an acting course in the evenings. She went on to work as an academic advisor at FAU before taking her passion for helping students to Salisbury University’s Perdue School of Business on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where she lives today. 

Townshend—who still receives notes of gratitude from students she advised over the years—marvels at the diverse experiences a higher education can bring. But she identified a meaningful need in those she served. “I worked with many students who juggled full-time employment and school, were the first in their family to attend college, or faced unexpected family emergencies that left them on their own financially,” she says.
These experiences drive Townshend’s philanthropy. She has included a gift to American University in her will, intending to “pay forward” the financial support she received as a student here. Her estate provision will establish an endowed need-based scholarship, ensuring that future generations of Eagles are secure in discovering their passions at AU and leading change around the world.

For information on how your charitable estate plan can create a legacy as part of American University’s Change Can’t Wait Campaign, contact Seth Speyer, executive director of planned giving, at (202) 885-3411 or; or visit