Remembering W.T. Young

By John Y. Brown Jr.
William T. Young was my next-door neighbor growing up, my mentor throughout my career, and one of my closest friends. He was put to rest Jan. 16 at a private graveside ceremony. He lived his life in modesty even though his successful business careers, as well as his philanthropy, would rank him as Kentucky's number one citizen.

He chose to enter the horse business late in life and yet he achieved extraordinary success in racing as well as breeding. One of the eulogies given was by his good friend, horseman Alex Campbell. Early in the 1970s, Alex coaxed Bill to partner with him in purchasing a few horses at a Keeneland sale. Their most expensive purchase was a yearling filly that cost $250,000. As fortune sometimes happens, the yearling died the next night and Alex was quite nervous in explaining to Bill what happened to the investment. Bill very calmly replied, "Well, I guess she wasn't insured." Which she wasn't.

From this unstable beginning in the horse industry, he stayed the course to win not only four Breeders' Cup races, but all three Triple Crown races. Along the way, he built from scratch Overbrook Farm, which is one of the premier Bluegrass farms, as well as one of the industry's most successful breeding operations helped by the success of Storm Cat.

Those of us who have grown up in Lexington have always viewed horse racing as the "Sport of Kings," and it usually has not been looked upon as a business opportunity. Bill's philosophy was that the horse business was a great opportunity, and of course, he had the record to back it up.

Bill, as I knew him, always had a very conservative as well as modest manner. But behind all of his success, he was intensively competitive and a risk taker.

Bill joined the board of my first business, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and was my mentor and main adviser. When I had the opportunity to serve as governor of Kentucky, Bill was one of the first persons I approached to join my administration as chairman of my cabinet, a non-paying position. He had an incredible impact and influence during my term.

Looking back over the years, Bill had amazing vision and insight, and to be honest, almost without exception, all of his advice was on target. He had the great ability to see through almost any question and could totally visualize the problem.

There are several "W.T.isms" that I remember. One was when I was explaining a major problem I had and I asked for his recommendation. He reflected for a moment and said, "Johnny, I think what you have is an unsolvable problem." Another came during the course of his career when, because of his success, he had been identified in these parts as a genius. I was kidding him one day about that label and he responded, "There is no such thing as a genius and you'll be lucky if you meet four or five extraordinarily gifted people in your lifetime."

One time he broke me up when I had a marital question while we were playing golf. I walked over to him on the green and asked, "Bill, how do you handle these wives?" He responded, "You don't." And again, to his credit, he had a wonderful, loving marriage to his college sweetheart, Lucy, who predeceased him almost two years to the day.

Frankly, I don't know how to describe Bill Young other than to say he was as near perfect as any human being I ever met. His integrity, kindness, generosity, breadth of interest, commitment, as well as his lifetime of successes, were an honor to witness.

Bill Young lived as he died--to applause. He passed away Jan. 12 immediately after introducing his friend, Jim McKay of ABC Sports, to his country club gathering. Upon completion of introducing Jim, the crowd gave Bill a resounding ovation.

An associate retorted when Abraham Lincoln died, "now he belongs to the ages--he was a man--take him for all in all, we shall not look upon his like again." I think this can be said of Bill Young as to his hometown and state, as well as the horse industry. We will all miss him, but what an opportunity all of us had to know him.

JOHN Y. BROWN JR., businessman and former governor of Kentucky, was a lifelong friend of W.T. Young.