For strength, faith, see Geraldine Young

July 30, 2000|By JOHN STEADMAN

FEW MEN and women have made such an impact, created so much good for the concept of brotherhood without defining it as a mission. It was what came naturally. Their personal contribution to Baltimore.

Claude "Buddy" Young was a pioneer for the cause. Then he was gone, dying in a traffic accident. His wife, Geraldine, has carried on, despite suffering the loss of her entire family. She has set an unmatchable standard for personal courage. How much more pain could one person endure?

First, there was the loss of Buddy. He died returning from a call of mercy, a memorial for a former Kansas City Chiefs player, Joe Delaney, who gave his life in 1983 trying to save three children in a Louisiana quarry.

Buddy died in Teague, Texas, after he fell asleep driving to the Dallas airport from Shreveport, La., in an effort to catch a late-night flight that would get him to New York and a Labor Day holiday he'd spend with his family.

Young, a player for nine years, was the first Baltimore Colt to have his jersey retired, the first black to become an executive with the team, then the first with the NFL as an assistant to commissioner Pete Rozelle. He also served on civil rights commissions under three different presidents.

His interests in furthering acceptance of minorities - in sports and otherwise in the early 1950s - were extraordinary. He also was the first black player in the NFL to have a white roommate, Zollie Toth, born in Pocohontas, W.Va., and a former fullback at LSU.

Toth had southern raising, but was Young's best friend. Skin color represented no barrier. Young went on to name a son, Zollie, after Toth, a significant tribute in recognizing one man's friendship for another.

Buddy and Geraldine Young had four children. But all were to die prematurely from natural causes, circumstances of tragic proportions that couldn't be explained by any human rationalizations:

Henny, age 29, was a 1975 victim of leukemia; daughter Paula, 47, died in 1997 from a cerebral hemorrhage; Jeffrey, 45, from a brain aneurysm in the same year, and Zollie, 44, from a heart attack in 1999.

It meant the Young familywas decimated. Just like that, Geraldine was alone.

Through the sorrow, she showed a strength of character, a love that revealed the depth of her being, a momentous resolve to persevere and to find genuine objectives that would be helpful to society, those in the living world.

It meant this dedicated, articulate and personable volunteer would work to raise funds and set the tone as a leader at the Druid Hill YMCA and, simultaneously, serve on the board of the Central YMCA of Maryland.

She was so outstanding that a building adjoining the Druid Hill "Y" has been named the Geraldine Young Family Life Center, where 12 homeless and neglected women, plus their children, are housed in apartments while being helped in job training, budgeting, counseling and other basics.

"You can't hold people responsible if they've never been taught before," she said in making a basic evaluation of the process.

As her own family members, husband and children, were taken away by death, Geraldine exemplified a sterling faith. "You can't wallow in self-pity," she said.

"I could have fallen apart and gotten up and paced the floor, but I wouldn't allow that. I tried to keep myself busy with a project or involvement at the YMCA.

"You grieve in your own way. I tell those who have lost mates and are enduring pain that to cry every day is normal. The Lord may have called them, but think of the fond memories. With Buddy - and we were married for 38 years - there was nothing I wanted to say that he didn't hear from me and vice versa."

She found much consolation in Bible lessons and discussions led by the Rev. Brad Ronnel Braxton at Douglas Memorial Church, who has since been transferred to the Wake Forest Divinity School. "Every morning," she said, "I always thank God for the life of another day."

Continuing to live in Baltimore, it's difficult to forget the glory days of the Colts. "I see Jesse Thomas [former defensive back] and his wife frequently, but not too many others."

As for the high salaries players are receiving, she said: "Remember that all the money in the world isn't going to build character. Buddy always believed greed would destroy our country."

Friends of Buddy and Geraldine Young, behind her back, talk in awe of how she has carried herself with dignity and strength through the near non-stop trauma. Oh, yes, on days when she's not at the YMCA, she's serving "meals on wheels."

Adversity piled to the mountain top for Geraldine Young, but she refused to surrender - regardless of how desperate the moment nor seemingly impossible the plight. She sets an example for those witnessing such purity of purpose.

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