Remembering Jean Young: An Advocate For Kids, The Environment

By: Alan Pollock

Jean Young with her husband, Andy. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAM Friends and colleagues are remembering Jean Young as a no-nonsense leader, a truly tireless volunteer, and a tender advocate for people in need.

The longtime health board member and community volunteer died last Tuesday after a battle with cancer. She was 72. The board of selectmen held a moment of silence in her honor Monday.

“She was a very, very vital person to this town,” Chairman Cory Metters said. “She’s going to be deeply missed.”

Mrs. Young’s contributions to the community were many, and tended to focus on her fellow citizens’ well-being and that of the place she called home for more than 35 years.

“She was extremely warm, she was extremely caring, and she was also very smart,” close friend Otis Russell said. Together with Chronicle Editor Tim Wood and a core group of other volunteers, Russell and Mrs. Young collaborated on the annual Art of Charity art auction to raise money for local children’s charities.

“She was sort of the nuts and bolts, whereas we were sort of the dreams,” Russell said. Particularly in the early days of the event, the Art of Charity had lots of creative, eccentric ideas, and needed an anchor. “Anybody taking a look at Tim and me at the time would not have the slightest amount of confidence,” he quipped. Though she was used to the rigor of the board of health, Mrs. Young adapted to the free-wheeling style of the Art of Charity volunteers, and came to enjoy the flow of ideas.

“We relied on Jean to take care of the physical setup of the auction,” said Wood. “With her connections and organizing skills, we knew no matter what, the tent would go up on schedule.”

“She knew the community so well,” Russell said, and was excellent at identifying which of the many worthy causes in town would be the best fit for grants from the Art of Charity Foundation, where she continued to serve as a board member.

With an education shaped by schooling at Dartmouth, world travels, and even her time in a ‘60s commune, Mrs. Young came to Chatham in 1981. Two years earlier, she had married husband Andy, whom she had met at college.

She was elected to the health board in 1986, where she quickly encountered some thorny debates, like a neighborhood cockroach infestation traced to a nearby illegal stump dump. She was a staunch advocate for a no-smoking bylaw, despite heavy pressure from local restaurants and lobbyists. Mrs. Young never sought out conflict, Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said, but never shied away from it when she felt that the public interest was at stake.

“Jean wasn’t shy about taking those on,” he said. As a board member, she was always well prepared and well reasoned. “She was very down-to-earth. You always knew where she was coming from.” Mrs. Young helped lead the charge for the health board’s interim nitrogen loading regulation, which formed a foundation for the current wastewater management plan. “There was a lot of leg work, a lot of public education done by the board of health,” Duncanson said. “She always had that mindset that education is important.”

In a 1988 visit to Chatham Elementary School, covered by The Chronicle, Mrs. Young talked about the need to protect the aquifer.

“We want to make sure that when you grow up and have children, and when your children have children, that the water in the ground is safe for them to drink, that they’ll be able to swim in the ponds, and that the shellfish that live in the water are safe to eat,” she told the fourth graders. “All of these things are very important to us.”

Mrs. Young loved children, and worked as a secretary in the elementary school, and later at Chatham Middle School. Dee Tripp, a colleague who worked in the high school guidance office, remembers how Mrs. Young interacted with children and young teens.

“She just loved the kids. She had the patience of Job,” Tripp said. And she never judged youngsters who seemed to be making bad choices. “People can label children, sometimes quickly, and she never did,” Tripp said. She was beloved by the students and made many of them feel safe in a sometimes-stressful environment. “She believed school should be a comforting place to go,” Tripp said.

Tripp recruited Mrs. Young to join the local Dollars for Scholars chapter, which was facing a major challenge. With an aging committee membership, the national scholarship organization was requiring local chapters to use new computer application system which had the committee stymied, and Mrs. Young volunteered to learn the new program.

“I don’t know where we would be today without Jean,” Tripp said. “I can never fill her shoes, I know that.” The Dollars for Scholars group will be establishing a new Jean Young Helping Hands Scholarship for local students, a fitting honor for their longtime volunteer.

“I just want her name to be out there for many a year,” Tripp said.

Mrs. Young brought that same attention to detail to the Chatham Historical Society, where she volunteered in the archives department of the Atwood House Museum. Executive Director Danielle Jeanloz said they have received “dozens and dozens” of sympathy messages from people helped by Mrs. Young’s work, and staff members remember her as a dedicated colleague, a mentor and a friend.

“She touched so many people in so many ways,” Jeanloz said. Though she liked working behind the scenes, using her curiosity about history and her proficiency with paper records, she was far from quiet. “As a matter of fact, she got the whole department here to laugh and celebrate,” Jeanloz said.

A trait universally mentioned by Mrs. Young’s admirers was her ability to complete a task she’d been assigned, “which is a wonderful trait to have,” Jeanloz said. So it’s not surprising that, with her health failing over the last two years, Mrs. Young focused on completing projects, among them this summer's “Double Take” exhibit featuring photographic comparisons of Chatham scenes from the early 20th century and today. She even wrote her own obituary, which is published in this edition.

“Even as debilitated as she was, I didn’t see her as debilitated,” Russell said. “You didn’t get the feeling that the disease was bigger than Jean.” When close friends learned that she passed away, it was hard to imagine that she had been overwhelmed by the disease, Russell said, with emotion in his voice.

Town Moderator William Litchfield will be emceeing a memorial service for Mrs. Young, aptly being held in the auditorium of Monomoy Middle School, just down the corridor from where she worked for many years. The service will take place on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. It will be a Quaker meeting-style format and anyone is welcome to offer remembrances.