James Young, 78, physician to Kennedy and Johnson

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By J.M. Lawrence
Globe Correspondent / June 9, 2008

Dr. James Morningstar Young, who rose out of a rural Ohio childhood to become White House physician to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, died Wednesday at Beth Israel Medical Center.

Dr. Young, 78, was a retired Navy captain and former Duke University football captain who lived in Lee, N.H. He died from complications following a stroke in May.

"He was really an outgoing, friendly person. He wanted to better himself and was always highly motivated," said David Dowd, a senior federal judge in Akron whose friendship with Dr. Young began in junior high school.

Dr. Young, who was on active duty with the Navy from 1955 to 1975, first met Kennedy when he was serving as medical director aboard the USS Northhampton when the president toured the ship.

A few months later, according to his family, Dr. Young was asked to become White House physician, and cared for the Kennedy family for several months before the president was assassinated in 1963. He was present at the autopsy.

"He was with Mrs. Kennedy for 10 days after the funeral," said Mariette (Aubuchon) Young, his wife of 37 years.

Dr. Young told many stories from his days at the White House. He cared for Kennedy's bad back and put Band-Aids on John Jr.'s scrapes. But he never shared any details about those grief-stricken days at the Kennedy family's Hyannisport compound following the president's death.

"That was the part he didn't talk about. He was a doctor and he kept it private," she said.

Born in Massillon, Ohio, Dr. Young attended a one-room grammar school and graduated from Washington High School in the city in 1947. His father, Ralph, worked in a nearby steel mill and his mother, Pauline, worked in a women's clothing store.

Dr. Young was inspired to become a doctor in the fourth grade when his maternal grandmother, who lived with the family, suffered a fatal cancer on her face. She spoke to her grandson with a mask over her face.

"Jim was convinced as a boy he could make a difference and the only way he could was to become a doctor, and maybe this wouldn't happen to someone else," his wife said.

Dr. Young, who played high school football, won a full scholarship to attend Duke University and play football. He was president of the student body and went on to earn his medical degree on scholarship.

By the 1970s, Dr. Young became chief of medicine at the Naval Hospital in Chelsea and also served as medical officer at the Naval Air Station at South Weymouth.

His first wife, Bettylu Jones, a nurse from Massillon, died of breast cancer in the late 1960s after 17 years of marriage, leaving six children. They had lost a 9-year-old daughter, Kathleen Rene, in an accident in the early 1960s.

Dr. Young met his second wife in 1970 at the hospital in Chelsea, where she was a graduate student in speech pathology. After three weeks of dating, he proposed to her at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston before the couple attended the Constitution Ball, she said. They had two children together.

"He was the patriarch of our family and everyone looked to him for advice, solace, and love," she said.

Dr. Young was vice president and medical director of Massachusetts Blue Cross/Blue Shield for 12 years. He retired from the post in 1987.

He contributed to the book "Managing Crisis: Presidential Disability and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment," and appeared on the CNN special "White House Doctors: The President's Shadow."

He also lectured at the Harvard School of Public Health, and was vice president for medical affairs for the Greenery Rehabilitation Group Inc. and associate medical director and chief of medicine for New England Rehab Hospital.

Part of Dr. Young's drive to succeed came from his high school football coach, Paul Brown, according to Dowd, who played tackle with Dr. Young. Brown went on to earn acclaim as Ohio State's football coach.

"We grew up in that Paul Brown era when you were expected to be good at whatever you did whether it was sports, studies, the choir, the band, the debate team. You were expected to excel and that kind of got drilled into us," Dowd said.

In retirement, Dr. Young volunteered at St. Charles Children's Home in Rochester, N.H., an orphanage for youngsters ages 3 to 12.

"They just loved him," said Mother Paul Marie, who oversees the home. "He was a delightful storyteller and he taught them all kinds of card games - anything that would teach them how to add up numbers."

Dr. Young also taught the children about anatomy and hygiene. He watched Patriots games with them and built model ships.

"He was just a great, great person. He could get down to their level. He really had a sense of how to be down to earth," the sister said.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Young leaves a brother, Jack Ralph of Massillon; daughters Anne Christine of Cape Coral, Fla., Patricia Jane Higgins of Windham, N.H., Elizabeth Lynne Ebeling of Corning, N.Y., Judith Pamela of Vernon, Conn., Claudia Dianne Howe of Norfolk, and Gretchen Camille of West Newton; sons Mark Andrew of Franklin and Lieutenant Commander Jason Paul based in Jacksonville, Fla.

A funeral Mass with military honors will be held today at 11 a.m in St. Joseph's Church in Epping, N.H. Burial will be held at a later date at Rose Hill Cemetery in Massillon.

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