Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Emru Townsend

Emru as I remember him.

Emru Townsend passed away last night after a lengthy battle with leukemia.

I can't remember how and when I first "met" Emru. He was probably the one to contact me in the days when the internet was mostly usenet groups and email lists. He approached me to write about the production of Monster By Mistake and I was grateful for the opportunity. He was the editor of fps, a Canadian magazine devoted to animation and my TV special was an early example of an all-cgi half hour. He gave me another chance to publicize the show when it went to series and I continued to write reviews for fps thereafter when it migrated to the web.

Emru and I were also members of Apatoons, a private publication about animation that's been going on longer than The Simpsons.

I only met Emru face to face two or three times, and I think that all the meetings may have taken place at the Ottawa Animation Festival. The one thing that struck me about Emru in person was his great baritone voice, one that was made for radio.

Emru was someone who made things happen. Lots of people have ideas or complain that the world is deficient in some way. Emru turned ideas into reality. Creating a magazine from scratch and getting it distributed is not an easy task, and it doesn't get any easier when the subject matter is animation. Emru attracted people like a magnet and was able to organize them so that there was a tangible result.

That organizational ability served him well during his illness. He used all his media savvy to publicize his situation; he needed a bone marrow transplant and had to find someone who was a match. He and his family (especially his sister Tamu), mounted a campaign that included a website and blog, email lists, newspaper articles and radio interviews, all focused on publicizing the need for people to provide samples for the bone marrow database. His ethnic group, the Afro-Caribbean community, is under-represented and one goal of his crusade was to register more people in that community so that they would have an easier time if they were unfortunate enough to be in Emru's position. For all the work that Emru did with fps, with the Siggraph organization, with the larger animation community, it will probably be dwarfed over time by the work done by him, his friends and family to expand the bone marrow database. We'll never know how many lives that database may save in the future as a result of their efforts.

Emru's illness was not easy or pleasant. In addition to the effects of the disease itself, he suffered with the problems associated with chemotherapy: exhaustion, fuzzy-headedness, and mouth sores. It suppressed his immune system, so he spent time in hospital wards where he could only be visited by people wearing masks and gowns as he was in danger of infection. There were other complications having to do with his heart rate and his legs swelling. Through all the treatments and over 40 transfusions, Emru wrote about his illness. There was no self-pity in those reports; Emru approached his illness like a journalist, documenting everything he went through dispassionately. This is what's known as grace under pressure.

Emru found a match for the transplant and underwent the procedure in September. Unfortunately, it didn't relieve his condition. He knew several weeks ago that there was nothing else doctors could do for him and that it was only a matter of time. Time ran out yesterday evening.

I've lost a friend, animation has lost an advocate, and the Townsend family now has a hole it in that will never be filled up. Emru is survived by his wife Vicky, his son Max, his sister Tamu, and his parents and in-laws. I know something of what they went through and I don't envy them the pain and uncertainty that has dominated their lives since Emru got sick. There's nothing left to say except that I hope that his family can find solace from how much we'll miss him and most especially from the way Emru lived his life. We're richer for having known him.


Thad said...

I am truly sorry I didn't get to know him better. You've written a beautiful tribute to him here. I wish to send my condolences to his family as well.

Anonymous said...

"Emru found a match for the transplant and underwent the procedure in September. Unfortunately, it didn't relieve his condition. "

Well this is horrible news. I'm so sorry to hear that . I was indeed hoping that the transplant would help him and grant him many more years.

The animation community has been diminished by his passing. I would also like to pass on my sincere condolences to Emru's family for their much greater loss.


Anonymous said...

This is profoundly sad news. I met Emru when I was working at Softimage in 1996. A common associate got us together as I "was an experienced traditional animator with some history in the business" and Emru's interests lay in that area. He brought along copies of the first few editions of FPS..too which I immediately subscribed and we sat in the Softimage cafeteria for he better part of an hour discussing the business and as well where I had been and what I had done. The early years at Nelvana were of great interest to him and he later published a stellar article on the making of "Rock and Rule". Emru struck me both for his enthusiasm and dedication to the business. FPS was a terrific publication, an incredible amount of work went into it. Montreal while a software development center was not exactly the center of the universe animation production - wise and when over the years I thought of Emru I thought of the remarkable amount of dedication required to keep the fire burning in a relatively isolated environment.I was aware of the heal Emru campaign and had hoped for a better outcome. Sadly that was not too be. The Animation community has lost a great champion, friend and dedicated enthusiast. My condolences to his family, he will be missed.

Tommy José Stathes said...

Animation has truly lost a great contributor. My condolensces go out to the Townsends and the rest of the animation community.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Terrible news. I remember Emru from when I was first getting seriously interested in animation -- back in the '90s there wasn't nearly as many online animation resources as there are now, and much of the best stuff came from Emru. I emailed him with questions a few times and he was always very nice and helpful, but mostly I knew his work and was grateful for adding so much to my knowledge of the art and the people who made it. I'll always be grateful to him. My condolences.