For some people, retirement means slowing down and enjoying life outside the working world. For Dr. Stuart Towns, who spent much of his career teaching and showcasing his passion for speech and oratory studies, retirement has a different meaning. Moving back to his hometown of Forrest City, Towns spends much of his time researching and writing on the topic that sparked his interest many years ago as a student at the University of Arkansas.
“My mother, my aunt and my grandmother all went to the University of Arkansas. I guess I just wanted to follow in their footsteps.” Awarded a cross country and track scholarship, Towns planned to go to Texas A&M, his father’s alma mater. One day, on a fishing trip, he remembers his dad saying, “You don’t want to go to Texas A&M, do you?” Remarking that he would rather spend his undergraduate years at the University of Arkansas, a few phone calls were made and Towns soon found himself enrolled as a student on “The Hill.”
His first semester on campus, Towns believed he was destined for a career in journalism. “I planned to be a world-famous sports writer,” he said. It wasn’t until he walked into the late Ralph Eubanks’ classroom that he discovered his passion for speech and communications. Thoroughly enjoying the course, he wanted to stay committed to the field and one day, teach at the university level, just like Eubanks.
Set on pursuing a major in speech, Towns soon added a minor in history to his curriculum, saying, “because of Walter Brown and James Hudson, I fell in love with history and the South.” The late Ann Vizzier, who taught renaissance and reformation history, also made an impact on Towns, proclaiming her to be “one of the best professors I had in school, as well as a great academic leader and role model.”
Taking the knowledge he gained at the university, he graduated in 1961 and went on to pursue a master’s degree in speech at the University of Florida. After receiving his master’s degree, Towns served in a U.S. Army Reserves Civil Affairs Unit helping to “rebuild schools, the economy” and other areas that were ravaged by war. He later retired as a colonel after 35 years of service. During that time, he also taught as an instructor in the speech and theater department at the University of Arkansas. Opting to further his education, Towns returned to the University of Florida where he received a doctoral degree in speech in 1972.
Fulfilling the commitment he made to himself as a student in Eubanks’ class, Towns accepted a position at the University of West Florida and later became chairperson of the communication arts department. Not only were his days filled with teaching, but he devoted 15 years to coaching the men’s cross country team. Running track and cross country in high school and college, Towns competed in the 1964 Olympic Trials and became a member of the U.S. Modern Pentathlon Team. Deciding to take on the role of coach, he said, “I had been there and done that. I think the guys looked up to me more because I’d done it. I’d been through what they were currently going through.”
Living by the theory that goal setting is critical, but one must be committed in order for that goal to become a reality, Towns worked to instill that in his students, both in the classroom and on the track. “I wanted to challenge my students to look beyond themselves,” he said.
After leaving the University of West Florida in July 2000, he took a position at Appalachian State University as professor and department chairperson. He later left Appalachian State to teach at Southeast Missouri State University where he officially retired in June 2011.
It is no surprise that Towns now devotes himself to writing and researching. Fascinated by the Civil War and southern history, he has written and published four books between 1998 and 2012. According to his website, www.southernoratory.com; his latest book, Enduring Legacy: Rhetoric and Ritual of the Lost Cause, “explores the vital place of ceremonial oratory in the oral tradition in the South.”
After the publication of his Enduring Legacy, Towns wasted no time and began working on his fifth book, saying, “We are currently going through the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This book is about Jefferson Davis and his speeches.” It is clear that Towns has no plans of slowing down any time soon.
Although his days of teaching and learning in a classroom are over, his passion for education is not. A devoted member of the Arkansas Alumni Association, Towns feels that being a member is his way of being able to give back. “By being a member of the Association, I’ve been able to make a contribution in some way,” he said. “It’s a great way to stay up-to-date on what is going on at the university.”
Living in Forrest City, he is unable to take part in many chapter events, stating that Memphis is the closest city for alumni-oriented events. However, if a chapter were to form in the area, he and his wife, Helen, who he met during his undergraduate years at the university, would most certainly get involved.
“The University of Arkansas is an important place to my family and those four years were a meaningful time in my life.”