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Dr. Quentin D. Young, ‘tiger for social justice,’ dead at 92

Dr. Quentin Young | Health & Medicine Policy Research Group photo

Dr. Quentin Young provided medical care to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mayor Harold Washington, the Beatles, Studs Terkel and Mike Royko. He ran a practice in Hyde Park, and his patients included Barack Obama.

But rather than the who’s who of his clients, admirers are remembering him for the what’s what. During a 60-year career, Dr. Young was a fierce advocate for quality health care for all and for the construction of Stroger Hospital.

He died Monday at his daughter’s home in Berkeley, California. Dr. Young was 92.

“The Cook County family has lost a giant in public health,” said Dr. Claudia Fegan, executive medical director of the Cook County Health & Hospitals System.

“Dr. Young was a radical, a rebel, a tiger for social justice,” health consultant Michael Gelder said.

In 2008, when he declared Quentin Young Day in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn said his health adviser “stood up for patients everywhere, advocating for what he believed to be right – even when it meant risk to his personal safety or his livelihood. . . . Time has consistently shown Quentin Young to be on the right side of history, and his advocacy has bettered his community and the health care industry as a whole.”

The Hyde Park resident — who could safely be called an old lefty — frequently clashed with officials who brought him in to run things because of his expertise and reputation, only to discover he was hard to muzzle and control. He was steadfastly against U.S. participation in the Vietnam War, and pro-labor and civil rights. One of Dr. Young’s favorite sayings was, “Everybody In, Nobody Out,” which became the title of his autobiography.

In the 1950s, he worked to desegregate Chicago hospitals. In the early 1960s, he helped start the Medical Committee for Human Rights, an arm of the civil rights movement. He marched in Selma and tended the injuries and illnesses that befell Freedom Riders in the South.

Dr. Quentin Young | File photo

Dr. Quentin Young | File photo

Later, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee because the Medical Committee for Human Rights was viewed as a Communist-friendly group, said Margie Schaps, executive director of the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, which Dr. Young chaired.

In 1966, when King was struck in the head by a projectile while marching through jeering white protesters in Marquette Park, it was Dr. Young who patched him up.

And when police batons battered protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Dr. Young dressed the wounds. “To see such a disintegration of norms was very hard,” he once said in an interview. During the Chicago Seven trial, he treated ‘Yippee’ Abbie Hoffman.

He chaired Cook County Hospital in the 1970s. His support of activist doctors who lobbied for unionization and improved patient care led to conflicts, Schaps said: “Quentin was proud of this — he was fired three times, but he always got his job back.”

In the early 1980s, he helped found the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, which studies the impact of social factors on health, including education, income and environmental toxins.

During Washington’s administration, the mayor tapped Dr. Young to head the city Board of Health.

And “Beginning in the late 1980s, he was perhaps the nation’s most eloquent and high-profile spokesperson for single-payer national health insurance,” according to a statement from the group Physicians for a National Health Program.

His advocacy for a single-payer system left him at odds with Obama on how the Affordable Care Act turned out.

In 2001, at 78, Dr. Young trekked 167 miles across Illinois with Quinn — his patient — to promote health care initiatives.

He walked with a bounce, and people gravitated toward him because of his erudition, Gelder said. The physician could quote from the Greek classics and George Bernard Shaw.

Dr. Young loved talking with King so much that he tried to stretch their encounters. When King had a cold, “I took a 15-minute house call and made it a three-hour afternoon with the master,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.

His mother and father were Eastern European immigrants. They met in North Carolina, where her family had a general store. “They were the only Jews for miles around,” said his daughter, Polly. Young Quentin’s future activism was stirred by witnessing the hard lives of African-American sharecroppers in North Carolina, she said. Later, his father earned a pharmacy degree from Fordham University. The Youngs settled in Hyde Park and his father sold real estate.

Dr. Young went to Hyde Park High School, the University of Chicago and Northwestern University’s medical school.

He took his children on medical rounds, and to meetings, demonstrations and visits with King.

In the latter part of his career, he had a WBEZ radio show on health and medicine.

In 1960, he and his first wife, Jessie, divorced. He married Ruth Weaver in 1980. She died in 2007. He is survived by two more daughters, Nancy and Barbara; two sons, Ethan and Michael; his stepchildren, Karin and William Weaver; nine grandchildren and two step-great-grandchildren. A Chicago memorial is being planned.

He summarized his philosophy in his autobiography. “From my adolescent years to the present, I’ve never wavered in my belief in humanity’s ability – and our collective responsibility – to bring about a more just and equitable social order. I’ve always believed in humanity’s potential to create a more caring society.”