The Passing of a Giant: REP. C.W. Bill Young

In a 1999 interview with the New York Times, longtime Florida Congressman C.W. Bill Young, who passed away last month at 82, said, “In my short life I’ve been shot, I’ve been hit by a truck, survived an airplane crash, I’ve had my chest opened and my heart rebuilt. And it’s sort of hard to get me flustered after all that.”

Young, R-Indian Shores, remained unflappable to the end. A staunch advocate for Florida and his beloved 13th Congressional District, he was at the time of his death the longest-serving GOP House member, having been in office 42 years.

Young was born in 1930 in Harmaville, Pa., a gritty coal town and suburb of Pittsburgh. His family moved to Florida when he was in his teens, and he had to drop out of high school to help support his ailing mother. At 18, he joined the Army National Guard, serving from 1948 to 1957 and achieving the rank of Master Sergeant. It was there that Young began what was to become a lifelong allegiance to the military.

He was elected to the Florida Senate in 1960 at age 29. In an era when the Democratic Party still ruled Florida, he was the chamber’s only Republican.

After his election to Congress in 1970, Young rose steadily through the ranks, accumulating power and respect along the way. For most of his tenure in Congress, he served as a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. From 1999-2005, he was the committee’s chairman. Additionally, he served three different stints as chairman of the Defense Subcommittee (1995-98, 2005-06 and 2011 until his death).

It was from his position on the Appropriations Committee that Young was able to steer significant federal funds to his district and work as a staunch advocate for the military. Young is credited with helping save MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa from being closed in a base-reduction effort. One of the largest Veterans Affairs hospitals in the country is located in his district, the VA Medical Center in Bay Pines, which opened in 1933. He was responsible for generating substantial funding for the hospital, including $110 million in 1976 following a visit by him and President Ford. In a posthumous tribute it is being renamed the “C.W. Bill Young Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.” Additionally, he was instrumental in providing $21 million in funding for the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young Dept. of Veteran Affairs Medical Center
As a tribute, the former VA Medical Center in Bay Pines is now “C.W. Bill Young Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.”

Young was an equally strong advocate for education and biomedical research. He earmarked millions of dollars for research funding at the University of South Florida. His official biography says that during his tenure as Appropriations chairman, “he doubled federal medical research funding over five years.” Some of his specific passions were increased immunization for preschoolers, improved public health programs and cures for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In 1986, in conjunction with the Navy, he spearheaded a national registry for bone marrow donors, the “C.W. Bill Young Marrow Donor Recruitment and Research Program.” One of Young’s proudest achievements, the registry today has a database of 11.5 million possible donors and more than 55,000 people have received transplants.

Though a pioneer in the Florida GOP, he was not afraid to buck his party at times. In 1974, Young joined the other three Florida Republican congressmen in announcing he would vote to impeach President Nixon. In 1976, he endorsed Gerald Ford over Ronald Regan in the Republican Primary and in 1980 endorsed George H.W. Bush over Reagan. He also spent his career trying to place strict limits on offshore drilling after watching the damaged caused by a 1970 tanker spill that dumped 20,000 gallons of crude oil into Tampa Bay.

On Oct. 9, Yong announced he would not seek re-election. In a quote to the Tampa Bay Times a week before his passing, he said, “It seems there’s too much politics. It’s a different Congress.”

His services drew several thousand people, including 34 members of the House and current and former members of the military.

He is survived by his wife, Beverly, five children and numerous grandchildren. Young and his wife would visit injured veterans at Walter Reed almost weekly. Appropriately, he was laid to rest in the Bay Pines Cemetery, near the VA and the veterans he devoted his career to helping.