Kind and generous with ‘a passion for Hamilton’
Prominent Hamilton businessman and philanthropist William Young is being remembered as a man who touched many with his kindness, good humour and passion for the city.
Young — who died April 21 at the age of 98 — came from a family that could trace its roots back to 1820 Hamilton when Scottish merchant John Young settled here, then to the founding of the Hamilton Cotton Company in 1880 by his grandfather James Mason Young.
William Young, a former Ancaster resident who spent his last years in a Toronto nursing home, was also the uncle of Bob Young, owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Such was the prominence of the Young family that when William married his wife Joyce on May 4, 1946, at Central Presbyterian Church, The Spectator called it a “wedding of exceptional interest.”
The paper featured pictures of the bride and groom and their parents and reported that “admiring crowds lined the streets adjacent to the church to see the lovely bride and her gallant husband come smilingly out after the ceremony.”
Young had just returned from six years in the Second World War, serving in Hamilton’s 40th Field Battery, rising to major and seeing action in Italy.
In 1960, Young became president of the Hamilton Cotton Co. Ltd., which had mills in other parts of Canada. He was soon expressing frustration about subsidized textile imports harming the industry and costing Canadians jobs.
The family business began diversifying and Young worked with his brothers David and Alan to sell most of its textile operations in March 1969 and convert the business into the private investment firm Hamilton Group Ltd. in May 1970. Young stepped down as president in 1984.
The cotton factory was on Mary Street, north of Barton, and at its peak it employed more than 500.
It was torn down and a grocery store stands there now. The Hamilton Group leased equipment to other companies and conducted business around the world. The family sold its stake in the firm in 1993.
Terry Cooke, CEO of the charitable Hamilton Community Foundation, called Young one of the finest men “that I have known.” Young became a director in 1961, following in the footsteps of his father, Maj.-Gen. James Vernon Young.
“He was kind, generous and infectiously positive,” said Cooke.
“He was always curious and passionate about Hamilton and about the difference that each of us could make as committed citizens. I feel so lucky to have known him.”
Young and wife Joyce donated $40 million to the foundation in 2000, a windfall Joyce made by loaning her nephew Bob some money in 1994 to help him launch his successful computer firm Red Hat Inc.
At the time, it was one of the largest charitable donations in Canadian history and the foundation said it transformed their agency. By 2014 “The Young Fund” had seen grants totalling more than $11 million.
Young also served as honorary colonel of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Ron Foxcroft, creator of the Fox 40 whistle, met Young while volunteering with the foundation and was recruited into the regiment by him.
In fact, he said it was Young who proposed he serve as honorary colonel in 2009 — he “mentored me throughout the entire process.”
“He loved Hamilton, the Argylls and the Tiger-Cats,” said Foxcroft. “We talked often about those subjects ... Many of (the Youngs’) charitable contributions were made quietly and anonymously. It was truly an honour to know Bill.”
Young served on the boards of Stelco, Gulf Canada, Harding Carpets, Gore Mutual Insurance, as well as McMaster University, Hillfield-Strathallan School and the Stratford Festival.
He served in the 1960s as president of the Primary Textiles Institute, which represented Canada’s 720 textile mills. He was a graduate of Hillfield, the Royal Military College and the University of Toronto.
Young leaves his wife, a daughter, two sons, seven grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and a brother.
Joyce and William Young in 2000 when Joyce made a then-unprecedented $40-million donation to the Hamilton Community Foundation.
William Young in 1962: Cotton Co. president.