Sunday, May 27, 2018
Opinion

C.W. Bill Young's family story paints picture of politicians' reality

What might we call this political soap opera? The Young and the Graceless?

In the end it seems the final sendoff of the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young to that earmark in the sky was somewhat less than a memorial service to a 40-plus year public career than it was a pulling back of the curtain on a dysfunctional political family more closely resembling the Medicis of the sub-tropics.

Had it not been for a brief, off-the-cuff remark by the congressman's son, Robert Young, toward the end of the October memorial service, chances are Bill Young would still be thought of as a longtime Washington power broker who funneled hundreds of millions of dollars back to his district. Indeed, Young's name is second only to "Stop" for its ubiquitousness throughout Tampa Bay.

Standing at a podium, the son noted that in addition to the children Bill Young shared with his wife, Beverly, there was another brood of offspring, referring to Pam, Terry and Kimber. "Actually, I don't know what their last names are," Robert Young confessed, which caused a sudden dropping of jaws and a rise in curiosity.

How could Robert not know the names of his half-siblings? The answer, as the Tampa Bay Times' Andrew Meacham eventually reported, was that he barely knew them.

There's a lesson here about public life. No matter how much you may think you know or admire about a public figure, even one who dominated Pinellas County politics for nearly half a century — you probably actually know very little, and there's probably even less to admire. It is always a bad idea to love a pol too much. Disappointment always lurks.

Few younger residents of Pinellas County were remotely aware Young divorced his first wife, Marian, after 36 years of marriage in 1985. Eight days later the congressman, then 54, married Beverly, then 29, who worked in his office and who had gotten a head start on the union by giving birth to Charles William Young II — in 1984.

How could this have happened? There's a story. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once observed that until he joined the Nixon administration as a national security adviser he was simply a rumpled, schlubby Harvard professor. But once he arrived at the center of power in Washington he suddenly found himself dating Jill St. John. The waters of the Potomac can be a compelling aphrodisiac.

Still, that awkwardness of the calendar didn't prevent Young from accepting the 1986 Family and Freedom Award from a group called the Christian Voice for the congressman's voting record on "key moral issues." We pause here for a proper eye roll.

Bill Young was hardly the first elected official to succumb to the allures of libido, hardly the first to get a divorce, hardly the first to begin a second family. But Young did more than split from his first wife. He split from his first family.

According to Meacham's reporting, following his parting with Marian, Young's contacts with Pam, Terry and Kimber dwindled. Three children, who had once been featured prominently in Young's early campaigns as a dedicated family man, all but disappeared from view. Even Pam's and Kimber's last names became a distant memory to Young's second family.

Members from Family 1 insist they tried to maintain a relationship with their father. Beverly Young says her late husband was rebuffed by his children, even describing Terry Young as a "horrible son," resentful toward her because she is younger than they are. Maybe we should change the title to The Young and the Acidness.

People will decide for themselves whom to believe. But given Bill Young's penchant for air-brushing his children out of his political life, combined with his effort to conceal his battle with cancer from the public during his last two re-election campaigns, it is fair to assume this was a politician whose life was far from an open book.

One more thing. To answer Robert Young's riddle. Their names are Terry Young, Pamela Ernest and Kimber Butts. It's time you knew.

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