Bruce Townsend

Mandolin was just one of many instruments Absecon resident Bruce Townsend could play. He also played guitar, fiddle and other stringed instruments and sang - his specialty was harmonizing with other musicians.

Photo provided by family

Bruce Townsend had lots of jobs in his life. He worked at two Atlantic City casinos for years, then went to the federal Transportation Security Administration. When that job ended, he went back to school and got a job in a hospital heart lab.

But whatever he did for work, music was always a big part of his fun.

His wife, Sherry, says Bruce “was pretty much a lifelong musician.” He grew up in Absecon and learned to play guitar from his father, Stan. At Holy Spirit High School, Bruce joined a band, Second Childhood. Their greatest hit was “Light My Fire,” by The Doors.

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“The long version,” says Steve Leeds, of Port Republic, Bruce’s friend from kindergarten on and the band’s keyboard player. It was such a specialty, “I think we played it 40 times one night,” Leeds adds, laughing.

But before Bruce died last month, at 58 — in a fall off the roof of his Absecon home, where he was cleaning ivy off the chimney — Bruce went on to much more diversity in his music.

“He would pick up any stringed instrument and play it,” Leeds says. “But his main talent was his ability to harmonize.”

With his wife, Bruce started a group called BayGrass Harmony, specializing in bluegrass music with a New Jersey shore accent. The band played at Waretown’s Albert Hall, among other local spots.

“Bruce played guitar, mandolin, fiddle, he sang ... and he was the ringleader,” says Sherry, the bass player — and their son, Ian, played percussion. (Some of their music is online at But Sherry says the band won’t play under that name without Bruce.)

Bruce and Sherry also played in local churches, adding a bluegrass twang to classic and modern hymns.

But along with his musical talents, “He was just a giver in every sense of the word,” Sherry adds. “He wanted people to be happy.”

He did that in several ways in his latest job, in the cardiac unit at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Mainland Campus in Galloway Township.

“If you had an appointment for a heart catheterization ... you met my husband. He was the first person they saw,” Sherry says. “People would go in scared to death, then come out and say to him, ‘You’ll be here tomorrow when I get this done, right?’”

Bruce worked his music into that job, too, volunteering with AtlantiCare’s Creative Arts and Healing program. He roamed the halls playing and singing to patients with Dee Smythe, another worker who’s also a professional singer, and who volunteers as Creative Arts coordinator.

“He just knew so many different things” musically, Smythe says. “He was really dedicated to playing, and dedicated to this program. ... A lot of people really enjoyed his music, and a lot of people really miss him.”

A Life Lived appears Tuesday and Saturday.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:


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