It is with great sorrow that the Wells Scholars Program reports the death of Dr. Tarlise (“Tarlie”) Townsend, WSP’ 08. Tarlie died on May 30, 2022, at age 31, after a long illness that didn’t keep her from achieving, in just a few years, what most of us can’t accomplish in a lifetime. Born in Bloomington, Tarlie was the first Wells Scholar ever from Edgewood High School. At Indiana University, she majored in neuroscience and German, with a minor in mathematics. Tarlie made a deep impact on everyone who encountered her, regardless of the context. Although I never taught her, I felt I actually did, given the glowing accounts by my colleagues of her transformative presence in the classroom. After her graduation, Tarlie traveled the world and won some prestigious fellowships along the way, from the DAAD (the German Academic Exchange Service), which allowed her to spend time at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, and from the Henry Luce Foundation, which enabled her to study in Vietnam. Fluent in multiple languages (including Vietnamese), Tarlie easily distinguished herself in her chosen field, public health policy, with a focus on pain, disability and opioid use in the United States. She acquired advanced degrees (an M.S. and a Ph.D.) from the University of Michigan. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Opioid Epidemiology and Policy at New York University, she was offered a faculty position at the same institution. Along the way, Tarlie published a clutch of peer-reviewed articles, in journals such as The American Journal of Epidemiology, Health Affairs, and The Journal of Clinical Oncology. A passionate advocate for the interests especially of cancer patients, she served on Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Patient and Family Advisory Council.
There was nothing that could hold Tarlie back—a certified scuba diver, she obtained her skipper’s license just a few weeks before her death. Tarlie remained a good friend to the Wells Scholars Program, returning to Harlos House just a few years ago to share her journey with the most recent class of Wells Freshmen. Her blog, “A Study in Blue,” remains one of the most piercing examples of self-observation I have seen. Critical of the role her privileged position as a white woman played in her treatments, she, with characteristic modesty, never lost sight of the larger question that she felt needed to be asked: “what can we do, societally and individually, to reduce this gap between me and those without all the luck that I’ve landed?” The memory of Tarlie’s brilliance and innate kindness shines on the minds of those who knew and loved her.