Summer 2021 NAACCR Narrative Leave a comment

On June 21, 2021, a video tribute to the life and accomplishments of Dr. John L. Young was presented during the NAACCR 2021 Summer Forum. The following is a link to the presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYKg_MqVYhs&t=1s. Below are a few of the heartfelt remembrances of John from fellow NAACCR members.

 

John L. Young, Jr. DrPH
July 5, 1941 – March 11, 2021

 

John Young was one of the very few people on my personal pantheon of public health heroes. I will miss him so much. He was a longstanding friend, and the most supportive and immensely knowledgeable colleague that anyone could wish for. He joined us on the CONCORD programme at the very first meeting, in Atlanta in 1999, and he was a strong supporter on the Steering Committee ever since.

I remember with huge pleasure the many times we spent together, having a great time (and a beer or two) but at the same time trying our best to advance the serious cause of cancer control. He hated me saying this, but I always thought of him as the godfather of cancer control in the US. If I’m still working full-time in this domain, it’s because I am driven with the same passion to contribute to cancer control in just the way John did over so many years.

When John retired from Emory in 2013, he “procrastinated to the point of embarrassment” – his words! – for two years before actually telling me. He said that one of the things on his “bucket dream list” was to come and spend a year with us in London as an unpaid volunteer working on the CONCORD analyses and data quality control. How great would that have been! Unfortunately, that part of his bucket list had to be torn up after a series of health issues, and he never made it to join us in London.

So he retired from the Steering Committee and became what he called a “kitchen advisor”. Trust me, every research programme should have one of those.

He always asked about my two boys, but then he boasted proudly about his 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren: absolutely no contest!

Rest in peace, big man. You are irreplaceable.

Michel Coleman
16 June 2021


 

John Young’s Legacy and contributions to Cancer Surveillance are legendary. But, of equal and possible even more importance has been his friendship and mentoring of so many in the cancer surveillance community. Most of us get absorbed in our own careers. Our focus is too often on what we need or want to accomplish. But, John truly cared about us as individuals beyond just our work lives. It is that attribute of caring that truly set John apart. Today, there are too few people like John who take time to mentor others, encourage them and teach them. When I was thinking about the remarkable kindness John shared, it brought tears to my eyes. Each of us have our own stories about the amazing man John was. In the interest of time, I will briefly share mine. I first met John nearly 40 years ago at an ACCC meeting in Washington, D.C. At that point in my life, we had young kids at home. My eldest was a real challenge. In fact, I had to leave that meeting early because he was causing so much trouble at home. John saw the anguish on my face and ask what was troubling me. So, I shared my circumstance with him. After that whenever I would see him he would ask about how my son, my wife and I were doing. I came to learn that I was not alone. John remembered and extended this same genuine concern to countless others. Over the years, John and I became good friends. He encouraged me to pursue a doctoral degree and he gave me tons of encouragement. However, when I was languishing and not finishing my dissertation, he jokingly threatened to kick me in the rear if I didn’t get moving. So, when I finally did finish my dissertation, in the acknowledgments section I thanked him for “threatening me with bodily harm if I did not finish”. And, that acknowledgment is the very best part of my dissertation (LOL). John’s legacy will live on for many years. But, his kindness, his sense of humor and his friendship will be deeply missed.

Presented at the NAACCR Summer Forum
June 16, 2021
By Thomas C. Tucker, PhD, MPH


 

John made the decision to hire me in 1992 to work on the California Cancer Registry’s systems as a programmer/analyst, which I’m still doing today as a system analyst, along with trying to help where I can on national working groups. He gave me a great job that quickly turned into much more – a great career and a wonderful cause that would allow me to work hard to make a positive difference for cancer research in my small way. What an honor to have that opportunity all these years. When I was first called to come in for interviews, I thought the IT manager said it was the California “Tuna” Registry. I was so relieved and thrilled when I found out that it was the California “Tumor” Registry instead (name at the time), and John and I had a good laugh about the confusion. Why did tuna need to be registered? 😊 I remember him asking me why I wanted to work for the registry, which I hadn’t had any time to consider due to the confusion, but as soon as I understood the mission, I told him it would mean a lot to me to be a part of the cancer fight in any capacity. John expected a lot from me, but that worked well as I expected a lot from myself.

One of many things I really appreciated about John when he was our director was that he felt it was important to send as many of us as possible to our annual scientific conferences in California. He really wanted us all to hear how the data we were working so hard to collect and prepare was used and to learn from the studies presented to help protect ourselves, our families, and our friends from cancer. We don’t do that anymore due to budget constraints, and I miss it. Things like that created a sense of teamwork and a family atmosphere for us, and I think it was a great motivator for many staff members that they were part of something bigger than themselves, bigger than a paycheck.

He was also always so sweet to my wife, Natalie, and to me, especially when he learned that Natalie had been diagnosed with MS at 9 years old and was already in the process of losing the last of her sight and her ability to walk in her 20s but was continuing to become a public interest law attorney and activist for civil rights and assistance for those in poverty in spite of it all. Over the years, we stayed in touch as best we could on opposite sides of the country. Facebook and Facebook Messenger helped with that when they came along. Natalie’s condition has become much worse in the past decade, with domino-effect life threatening complication after complication doing more and more damage to her body, and John and Lynda were so supportive with many prayers and kind, comforting words…and humor of course.

I will never forget him, of course, as he made a huge difference in my life, along with everyone else in his life. But most importantly, billions of people will continue to be helped by his brilliant, devoted work and the legacy he left behind – an army of bright, educated, driven, inspired, and beautiful souls in the cancer registry community continuing to build on what he started to fight cancer with everything they have.

Ben Wormeli
Senior System Analyst
Cancer Informatics and IT Systems Unit
California Cancer Reporting and Epidemiologic Surveillance (CalCARES) Program

 

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