JoAnn Clayton Townsend

FREEPORT – JoAnn Clayton Townsend, former director of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) at the National Academy of Sciences, an American Institute of and Astronautics (AIAA) fellow, an abstract artist, a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, passed away on Dec. 21, 2020. She had just celebrated her 85th birthday.

JoAnn was preceded in death by her father, James William Woolley Cleveland and mother, Rachel Blanch Mary McLaughlin, and spouses John David Clayton and Dr. John William Townsend, Jr. She is succeeded by her cousin, Bernard Lynch, her daughter, Rachel Diana Clayton, son, David Edward Clayton, his wife, Martha, and her three grandchildren, Abigail, Margaret, Jack, and great-grandson, Sasha.

Born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, JoAnn later moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she was raised in extreme poverty by her single mother. She received her B.A. at the University of Tulsa on a full scholarship and pledged into Phi Beta Kappa. JoAnn met Tulsa Daily World News reporter John Clayton in 1954, and they were married on Feb. 19, 1955. In 1957, John was offered a job working for the United States Information Service, a division of the State Department’s Foreign Service. Between 1957-1974, JoAnn traveled with John around the world, including posts in Jordan, India, Iran, Bulgaria, Israel, and Turkey.

During their time in Israel, JoAnn attended the Ulpan Hebrew language training for immigrants. She also worked on several archaeological digs, and began collecting ancient oil lamps. While posted in Turkey, JoAnn took horseback riding lessons and piloting lessons. She was president of the Turkish-American Women’s Society for a year, and the following year, she and a friend established the first English language travel magazine in Turkey.

Amidst John and JoAnn’s travels, JoAnn gave birth to two children, Rachel Diana on April 29, 1959 in Madras, India, and David Edward on Oct. 23, 1962, in Tehran, Iran.

In 1963, John, JoAnn and their two children returned to Washington, D.C., for John’s next assignment. While in Washington, JoAnn worked as the personal assistant to the Foreign Secretary of National Academy of Sciences until John received his next appointment to Sofia, Bulgaria in 1966.

In 1974, JoAnn and her family returned to the United States, and JoAnn worked for several years on Capitol Hill as Legislative Assistant to Congressmen Berkeley Bedell from Iowa, Charles Whalen of Ohio, and Matthew Rinaldo from New Jersey. On June 17, 1977 her first husband, John Clayton, passed away and JoAnn decided to re-join the staff of the National Academy of Sciences. One of her first assignments was as a staff officer for a committee writing a report for NASA on President Reagan’s decision to cancel the U.S. portion of the NASA-ESA International Solar Polar Mission (ISPM). This began her fascination with the space program. She continued to pursue a Master’s Degree at George Washington University while working for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Within a few years of completing her degree in Space Policy she rose to become the Director of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board at the NAS.

JoAnn’s contributions to the U.S. space program were recognized by her peers when she was elected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in 2003, a prestigious distinction. Women in Aerospace presented her with its Outstanding Achievement Award in 1991 and Outstanding Member Award in 1997. She was a member of the International Institute of Space Law and editor of its annual proceedings for many years. She also was a member of the International Academy of Astronautics.

While working at ASEB she met Dr. John (Jack) William Townsend, a former Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, a Fairchild Industries Vice President and also a Fellow of

the AIAA, making Jack and JoAnn the first married couple of the AIAA to be so honored. They were married on Sept. 17, 1996.

JoAnn retired from ASEB in 1997 to pursue her dream of becoming an artist, another field in which she excelled. She was accepted into the prestigious Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va., where she painted and exhibited. After Dr. Jack Townsend’s passing in 2011, she and her daughter, Diana, moved to Maine to be close to her son, David, and his family in March of 2012.

JoAnn continued to paint and showcase her art while in Maine. She also traveled extensively for pleasure with her daughter, Diana. JoAnn especially enjoyed her time living close to her family, spending time with her grandchildren, and welcoming her great-grandson into the world in 2018.

Please visit to sign JoAnn’s online guest book.

Please make any memorial gifts in the form of contributions in JoAnn’s name to the Freeport Fire/Rescue Department at 4 Main St., Freeport, ME 04032

who kindly aided her in her final years.

Guest Book