When I heard the sad news that my friend John Young had died, I thought of a little scrap of humor that made the rounds 30 or so years ago.
The gag had to do with George H. W. Bush, then the 41St president of the United States, claiming he “had the vision thing.”
About three decades ago, a man who really did have “the vision thing” arrived with his family in Union County. With him, vision was no joking matter.
John Young had vision in such heroic measure that it’s hard to fathom what life here would be today if John Young and his vision hadn’t arrived.
Imagine getting onto Interstate 22 at the Highway 15 exit and driving northwest toward Memphis as far as the Glenfield exit, about three miles. Thirty years ago, of course, it was Highway 78.
As you drive westerly on I-22, look to your left along the south side of the freeway. Do you still see hundreds of acres of swamp, second growth forest and under-developed farm land? Driving that three miles 30 years ago, that’s about all you would have seen.
Thirty years ago, on your right where the highway crossed Central Avenue, you would have seen the small Parks Chevrolet dealership and the large printing plant of the then-thriving New Albany Gazette. When you got to Highway 30, you would have seen a scattering of convenience stores. On your right would have been a smaller version of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County, and you might have been able to see a little 20,000 square-foot Wal-Mart store under the rise of the hill.
What you would not have seen on the left 30 years ago would have been the Lowes Store, Tractor Supply, ElAgave, the Walmart Supercenter and all the smaller stores around it. You would not have seen hundreds of residential units, both multi and single family. You would not have passed the baseball and soccer fields of BNA Park. There would have been no tennis complex, no Walgreens, no Hampton Inn. There would have been no Barnes Crossing Chevrolet, no Barnes Crossing Ford, and no Waffle House. And no Tanglefoot Trail on both sides of what is now I-22.
This is not to say that all of those things appeared solely because of John Young’s efforts. Although, it is safe to say he deserves most of the credit for the residential and commercial development on the south side of I-22. Thorn McIntyre, BNA Bank, and the late Mayor Walter Johnson did their share of the heavy lifting in the commercial development of that part of New Albany.
But first there was John Young.
Mayor Johnson, Katherine Dye, Mayor Tim Kent, Zack Stewart, Betsey Hamilton and number of others deserve praise for the more recent development of the public facilities on both sides of the Interstate. But it should also be remembered that John never failed to support anything good for New Albany, regardless of whether he had any financial interest in it.
John Young was a classic, gutsy American entrepreneur. He had imagination. He worked hard. He was in the office the day before he died at age 82. He took risks. He took his lumps when he lost. But mainly he won, and everyone in Union County shares in the win.
John leaves behind four smart children and his longtime majordomo Frankie Prescott. They have learned from him hard work, paying attention to all of the details, the pleasures and dangers of risk and the need to always have a good measure of “the vision thing.”
Last winter we were sitting in front of the fire in his den drinking red wine. As always, we gossiped, talked about farming and airplanes and family and politics, almost never about business. The subject of risk came up and I will always remember what John Young said: “I’ve been out of money a few times, but I have never been broke.”
For information on services for John Young: https://newalbanyunionco.com/john-young/