Herbert Sands Towne was born on October 9, 1899 in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Before attending Williams, Towne was a student at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeland, Connecticut and also served his first of two stints in the United States Army from 1917 through 1918 as a second lieutenant. Towne entered Williams in 1917 as a member of the Class of 1921 and, playing on the freshman class football team, quickly showed a disposition toward athletics. Sports appears to have played a major role in Towne’s collegiate experience; as he went on to play two years of varsity football and three years of varsity track and field, in addition to serving as manager of the tennis team during his senior year. Towne filled his social life with membership in Kappa Alpha fraternity. His class voted him second place in the “Social Lion” category of the Class Book, fifth in “Class Sport,” and, paradoxically, fourth for “Laziest Man.”
After graduating from Williams, Towne entered Harvard Business School, where he received his MBA in 1923 and went on to work for the National Blank Book Company, a paper manufacturing firm run by his family in Holyoke. In 1925 he married Dorothy Johnson, a 1923 graduate of Wellesley College. Towne continued to live in his hometown until 1933, when he co-founded the investment counseling firm Van Strum-Towne and moved to Pasadena, California, where he would live for the remainder of his life.
In addition to serving a second stint in the army, this time at the rank of Captain in the Officer Procurement Division, Herbert Towne maintained a close link with Williams College. In 1964 he ran unsuccessfully for the position of Alumni Trustee of the college. In 1969, during the takeover of Hopkins Hall by the African-American students association, Towne sent a concerned letter to College President John E. Sawyer recommending a strong, no nonsense stance by the college, similar to one taken by Notre Dame University that year. Sawyer responded quickly, reassuring Towne that things had gone smoothly and that the situation was under control.
The most lasting impression left on Williams College by Herb Towne is the Herbert Towne Field House, named for him in recognition of his substantial gift to the college that made the building possible.
Herbert S. Towne died in Pasadena on May 28, 1979, at the age of 79. In a letter to Dorothy Towne, R. Cragin Lewis, the Head of Alumni Relations at Williams, wrote “It’s hard for me to imagine alumni affairs without Herb Towne.”
By Jonathan Pearson
Lewis, R. Cragin. Letter to Dorothy Towne. June 26, 1979. Biographical file of Herbert S. Towne. Williams College Alumni Office Records. Williams College Archives and Special Collections.
Sawyer, John E. Letter to Herbert Towne, April 15, 1969. Biographical file of Herbert S. Towne. Williams College Alumni Office Records. Williams College Archives and Special Collections.
Towne, Herbert S. Letter to John Sawyer, April 10, 1969. Biographical file of Herbert S. Towne. Williams College Alumni Office Records. Williams College Archives and Special Collections.
Williams College Class Book. 1921.