Tom Clancy’s classmate reflects on their friendship at Loyola

In wake of best-selling author's death, friend and classmate David Townsend, '69, discusses how he and Clancy bonded over their differences.

By Nick Alexopulos, '03

Tom Clancy, ’69, and classmate David Townsend, ’69, J.D., Ph.D., ate breakfast together almost every morning for two years when they were in the same Ranger platoon for ROTC Green Beret training. The two became close friends.

“We had a lot of serious conversations about literature and philosophy in those days,” said Townsend. “We were trying to solve all the world’s problems. We were 19 years old and we thought we could do it.”

Townsend reflected on the differences that helped their friendship grow and inspired them to remain in touch decades after leaving Loyola.

David Townsend, '69, (pictured) and Tom Clancy, '69, became close friends while students at Loyola. (Photo courtest Evergreen Annual 1969)

David Townsend, '69, (pictured) and Tom Clancy, '69, became close friends while students at Loyola.

They were both English majors, but they didn’t share the same taste in book genres. Townsend preferred Nathaniel Hawthorne. Clancy was drawn to James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.

“You really need to pay attention to this,” Clancy urged Townsend at the time.

That’s why, during their sophomore year, Townsend sold Clancy his collection of 150 paperback war books, mostly about World War II. The cost: $15.

“He made very good use of them,” Townsend said.

Townsend has taught at St. John’s College in his hometown of Annapolis, Md., for 40 years, and leadership and politics have long played a central role in his life. At Loyola he was the president of the student government association and a class president. He is married to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former two-term lieutenant governor of the state of Maryland who ran for governor in 2002.

There was quite a distance between Clancy and Townsend on the political spectrum. The Townsends are progressives. Clancy was for limited government, a large military, and Ronald Reagan.

And it was President Reagan, after all, who jumpstarted the popularity of Clancy’s first book, The Hunt For Red October.

Townsend says Clancy’s goal for the book was clear.

“Tom said to me, ‘I just want to see my name in print’ when he was writing that first book,” said Townsend.

The U.S Naval Institute paid $5,000 for Clancy’s Red October manuscript and published the book in 1984. It became a best seller after President Reagan praised it openly and was later made into a major motion picture.

“You want your friends to succeed,” Townsend said. “We were a good class and I think that when you come up with a good group you kind of challenge each other, feed off of each other. We were very lucky to have a cohort of companions.”

Townsend credits a strong liberal arts foundation for all he, Clancy, and his other classmates have achieved.

“The liberal education we experienced at Loyola was liberating and gave us a sense of possibility and a sense of what’s really significant in the world in terms of imagination,” said Townsend.

“It enabled us to dream big.”

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