Beyond the Ballot — Ron Young
Sen. Ron Young was only 34 when he took over as mayor of Frederick, but he oversaw the devastating flood of 1976 and a series of projects that shaped the way the city looks today. After a 16-year tenure and two subsequent re-election defeats, he re-entered the political arena in 2010 to run for Maryland Senate.
In his downtime, though, Young is an avid painter and writer with five books currently in process. He sat down with “72 Hours” to discuss his personal life and in-depth details from his political career.
It’s all part of Beyond the Ballot, a series of in-depth interviews with Frederick County’s elected officials. You can follow the series every Thursday in “72 Hours.” Below is a condensed version of our interview with Sen. Ron Young.
We’ve talked a lot about politics, so I wanted to give people the chance to get to know you a little bit more. Can you tell me about your family?
Young: Well, you know my wife. I think you’re interviewing her next. I have four sons. And Karen [Lewis Young, his wife] has a daughter. But my oldest son, Brian, was elected to the Democratic Central Committee and served one term as vice chair. Then decided not to do it anymore. He’s worked in computers for 30 years and has a law degree.
My second son, Brad, owns his own financial management company, and he and his wife and her two brothers own Riverside Liquors. And he’s president of the Board of Education. Coached girls’ softball at Walkersville High and at Hood College. He teaches part-time at Mount St. Mary’s. He was president of the American Association of Community Colleges. So, he’s been very involved in education that way and in the community in general.
My third son, Blaine, he was president of the county commissioners. He’s the one Republican in the family.
I wanted to ask you about that because I was wondering how it felt to have a son branch off like that, and go so staunchly Republican?
Young: Well, I would have rather he hadn’t, but he’s still my son. We don’t agree politically. But that’s just life. It happens in a lot of families.
As a father, how did it feel to witness the sex scandals he got caught up in?
Young: Well, you don’t enjoy them. I’m sure he didn’t enjoy it, either. But you go on. Your kids are your kids. I told somebody once, ‘You watch them grow up and become successful and you’re proud and you hold your breath.’ But they each have to live their own lives. So, he’s remarried and has another position and they’re starting a little business and things seem to be going well for them. That’s good. I’m happy for him.
Then my fourth son is Alex. He works for a company called Experient, which does conference planning around the country. He’s been with them for about 17 years. And he married a young lady that’s a schoolteacher. Ironically, they graduated from the same college, the same year. He ran on the boys’ track team and she ran on the girls’ track team. But they totally didn’t know each other. They met in downtown Frederick.
Brian and Kathy decided not to have kids. Brad has three beautiful daughters. They’re the only girls in the family. Blaine has two sons – I think ninth and 11th grade. They’re both 6’2”. I think one’s going to go way beyond that. And Alex has two boys, also. Then Brad’s oldest daughter has a boy and a girl, so I’m a great-grandfather.
How did you and Del. Lewis Young meet?
Young: She was president of the Weinberg Center. They were having some problems and talking about privatizing or something like that. And one of the board members said, ‘Well, why doesn’t somebody talk to Ron Young?’ I started the Weinberg Center, and he said, ‘Well, he’s been through all this before. Does anybody know him?’ And Karen said, ‘Well, I’ll call him.’
So, she called me and we went out to lunch together for a couple hours. Then about a month later, I ran into her downtown. I was on my way to have dinner by myself somewhere and she was, too. And we talked and started dating.
When did you marry her?
Young: About 13 years ago. Whew. If you ask her that question and it’s 12, I’ll be in trouble.
I’ll definitely tell her, then. And I have some rapid-fire questions for you, too, if you’re ready?
Young: OK, rapid-fire.
The first one is pretty easy. Are you are a dog or a cat person?
Do you have any dogs?
Young: Well, we had three rescues. One just passed. We still have two.
What are their names?
Young: Andy and Poppy. Poppy, [Lewis-Young’s] daughter found on the streets of Miami. And he was born just about the time her father died, who they called Poppy. She figured there was a connection there, so she named it Poppy.
What about Andy?
Young: Andy, one of the first places I ever took her was to New York, to the New York Open. And Andy Roddick won it that year.
What about pie or cake? Are you a pie person or a cake person?
What’s your favorite type of pie?
Young: Graham cracker banana cream.
OK. That’s very specific
Young: Then fruit pies after that. I do like carrot cake, but otherwise, I’m a pie eater. I don’t eat too much of either.
Do you have a favorite food in general?
Young: Maryland hard shell crabs and corn on the cob.
So, you’re a real Marylander then.
Young: Oh, yeah.
Well, the next one is a little tougher, but I’m wondering, if you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, what three people would you have dinner with?
Young: Thomas Jefferson, John Kennedy, and Michaelangelo.
Why those three?
Young: Well, two of them were really brilliant. And one, Kennedy, was very charismatic. And one that re-energized my interest in politics. He isn’t the one that got me into it, but he re-energized it. I just thought he was a really interesting person.
Who did get you into politics, then?
Young: I was 12 years old and Adlai Stevenson ran against Eisenhower. And I went door to door for him and was his campaign manager in my junior high school. I just got interested. Thought he was a brilliant guy, but he didn’t have Eisenhower’s smile or personality and he lost badly.
Do you have a favorite book of all time?
Young: Probably ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Dostoyevsky. But Bernard Malamud was my overall favorite author.
What about movies? If you had to take three movies onto a desert island, which movies would you choose?
Young: Wow. I’m a real movie buff. The original ‘From Here to Eternity.’ ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being.’ And ‘Gone With the Wind.’
You’d kill a lot of time, then, on the island. What was the last movie you saw?
Young: ‘The Favourite.’
Oh, did you like that? I really want to see it.
Young: I liked it, but I was a little disappointed.
Why is that?
Young: Well, it was about two women who were seeking the queen’s favor, and — I don’t know if I can talk about it on here. They both were very sexual with her. And the one that finally won out, it appeared by winning, she was going to have sex with the queen the rest of her life. I mean, I’m not a prude in that way. But it was humorous at times. I like those period movies. But I don’t know, I was just expecting more. Sometimes if you expect too much, it hurts it.
Well, this is another slightly scandalous question, but what is your alcoholic drink of choice?
Young: Just a very occasional glass of wine or Prosecco. Or a beer, occasionally. I’m not much of a drinker. My father was an alcoholic and I just never — I don’t even think I had a drink until I was almost 30 years old. And it was funny — when I was mayor, I constantly got accused of being in the bars, drunk. I went into all the restaurants downtown because I helped a lot of them come here and I knew the owners. And I usually had a club soda or a Diet Coke. But everybody in there drinking assumed I was, too. I don’t have anything against it, I just don’t drink that much.
Sure. And I know you are an avid artist, which we’ve discussed before. But I also wanted to ask — I think you’ve mentioned that you’re working on five books? Can you tell me about them?
Young: Well, kind of. I’ve been pretty lazy about it. I’m doing one called, “My Story: Who Are We But Our Stories?” And it’s 500-plus one-third to two-page stories of growing up in Frederick and the 16 years I was mayor. And how we brought the town back and all. That one I probably have 75 percent finished.
And I’m doing one called “Frederick’s Time Traveler” where I jump around in history and take important or interesting events in Frederick and I write a diary entry like I was there. And then I do a paragraph or two on the relevant history. And a map of 125 of them, where they’re located. So, it’s a tourism guide and tidbits of history. And then on the Frederick end, I’m doing — I want to do one of my hundred paintings of the historic district. And possibly a few stories about each painting.
Then I’m working on two other novels. The one’s really lagged. I haven’t done much on it.
What is it about?
Young: It’s a follow-up to the one I’ve already gotten published. And then there’s one called “Mondays Forever.”
What is “Mondays Forever” about?
Young: It’s kind of a love story. It’s about an African-American woman who grew up on East Third Street in Frederick. And she went to Europe at the end of World War II to volunteer. Met a war correspondent, who is white. They fell in love. He was married to an invalid who died not too long after that. Anyhow, she got pregnant, which you didn’t do back then. And she met an Italian lady who was her friend, and they brought the daughter back here. She eventually got a job in Baltimore at the Enoch Pratt Library and he walked in one day. They had lost contact, and he was a newspaper editor at the Baltimore News-American.
Basically, they saw each other every Monday for over 40 years. And it’s the story of their life together. They started writing books together, published in his name. He became a bestseller, and they split the money. Then her daughter grew up and had two daughters. And then she was killed in an accident, so the two old ladies raised the two young girls. And at the beginning of the book, she’s in bed, waiting for the two girls to come back. She’s kind of arguing with God, you know? ‘You’ve waited for me 87 years, you can wait a couple more hours.’ Then they discover that she’s really their grandmother. And I won’t tell you the end.
It’s interesting to me. You mentioned that the protagonist is an African-American woman who lived on East Third Street in Frederick. And I’m wondering — when you were growing up, was Frederick still segregated?
Young: Yes. Except that three doors down from my house was the parsonage and the black church. The African-American church. In an all-white neighborhood, we had that church. I grew up laying in bed listening to gospel music. School didn’t integrate until my senior year. But I knew a lot of African-American kids. One lived around the corner from me and we all played football together. And then my grandmother took care of us some at her house. There was an African-American neighborhood there. We played with those kids. But we never really thought about it.
But when you take over as mayor and serve for 16 years, you kind of have to. Did you do anything to address that legacy?
Young: Yeah. I was very tight with the African-American community. As a matter of fact, I got thrown out of a private club with the president of the NAACP. I submitted him for membership and they accepted him and took him in. And then they threw us both out.
What was the country club?
Young: It was called the Democratic Club at the time. Now it’s the Patriotic Club, but I think it’s closed.
Where was it?
Young: On East Fourth Street. On the other side of East Street. It was Lord Nickens, who was president of the NAACP. He’s the one on the mural up on Seventh Street.
Young: They threatened to get us arrested and threw us out and I was told I would never win another election in 1969. But he lived until he was 101 and he told the story at a lot of banquets. It got better over the years. You never let facts interfere with a really good story. By the end, we were locked up in jail and there was a lynch mob outside.
Well, Senator, I only have one more question for you. You mentioned that you have a large bucket list and a lot of things that you wanted to do. So, I was wondering what the top three items on your bucket list are?
Young: Reach 200 paintings, finish the books. I have 34 countries I want to visit. I want to win the 90s and Over National Single’s Tennis Championship. I’ve played tennis for 60 years. Well, a little more than that now.
What’s the top country you want to visit?
Young: There’s a lot of them. I guess I’d have to say — it’s not one — but the British Isles. One side of my family goes back through a whole bunch of kings years ago back there, and I haven’t really spent much time there. The other side came from Germany and I have been to the cities where my family was from there. So, I guess those. I can start naming more. People always say, ‘What’s your top one, two, or three? And I’ve just got a long list. I want to do them all.