By Cynthia Ellis
Frank Young seemed brilliant to me. But he would not have agreed. Still, when we gathered with him and other members of the Board of Directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, he stood out as someone who admirably understood a great many complicated issues and often had something pertinent to say. We were accustomed to hearing him, with measured tones, offer up reason, research, and remembrances.
What he strove for, in discussions, was for us to be fair in our deliberations. I’m not going to be able to remember details of this story, but Frank felt that way from an early age. He told that once, growing up on Tuppers Creek, he witnessed a heated conversation between his father and a coal mining official. Whatever the disagreement was, Frank saw a person of authority jab his finger in Frank’s father’s chest and proclaim, “And there’s nothing you can do about it!”
After that, Frank Young wanted to work so that no one felt hemmed in and powerless.
So, he did. Sure, Frank had a towing company, and there was plenty of work connected with that. But he also became a member of a number of groups striving for economic, political, and environmental justice, and he played an active and important role in each one.
With his diverse knowledge, Frank played a vital part in our organization. And, Frank was also our man with all the boxes. He had taken on so many responsibilities that he nearly always arrived with quite a load of books and papers and other supplies to help us in our work. He usually drove a large comfortable vehicle, and, before and after meetings we would head out to his car or van and dip into and transfer necessary items which he had shepherded.
Frank was a representative for WVHC and I was a representative for a statewide birders group when we served on a citizen advisory board for the Beech Ridge wind power project in Greenbrier County. On a high mountain foggy day, we on that board met with industry and construction staff by the wind turbines and gained insight into the “footprint” of such installations. But more often, rather than on the ridgetops, any of us could see Frank in Charleston or at other locations as we manned protests, sat in on hearings, and met with ally groups. He was extremely dedicated to attending to all those proceedings.
He was similarly faithful in his efforts with the recycling center in Jackson County. Of three regional centers I have frequented, the one supervised by Frank Young was easily the most efficient and worthwhile. He certainly put his wishes for a better future into action there at that site in Ripley.
He did mention, though, that his devotion to his work caused some mild grousing at home. When the subject of not taking family vacations came up, one son remarked something like, “We never go because Dad is afraid he will miss one piece of anything that should be recycled!”
Mentioning family brings to mind Frank’s wife of 54 years, Becky. Routinely, Becky accompanied Frank to meetings and events. It made us happy to see them together, because it made them happy. She would tuck herself into a quiet corner…maybe occupied with some handiwork…and in a way, convey support for us all by her support of him.
The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy benefitted immeasurably from his years of service toward preservation and conservation of our state’s mountains, waters, lands, and communities. We were fortunate indeed to have known and worked with Frank Young!