Kennedy Biographies

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The Chroniclers
 
Richard N. (Dick) Young Dick Young
Public Affairs
NASA


It takes an extraordinary person to head a government news organization and be known by the media, fellow employees, government managers, industry leaders and people around the world as fair, hard working, honest, even-handed, a good manager, an excellent writer and a terrific person and friend. Those are just a few of the accolades Richard "Dick" Nutter Young heard when he retired in 1994 after serving longer than any other person as news chief and chief of the Public Information Office for NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

As a writer, he was fast and accurate, churning out fact sheets, news releases and status reports in record time. But he also wrote long, in-depth articles that captured the achievements of complex scientific spacecraft in a way everyone could understand. These appeared in newspapers, Sunday supplements and magazines. In his spare time, he wrote, also. His hobby was growing orchids and one article on the subject that he wrote for an airlines magazine is used as an example in at least one college literature text book.

As a manager, he believed in helping people grow and was particularly effective as a mentor to student co-ops and beginning information specialists, in addition to running a flexible, efficient and responsive organization.

Young was born in Clarksburg, W.Va., and after high school joined the Marines. He attended college on the G.I. Bill and graduated from Boston University with a law degree in 1953.

"New England is lovely country," he said, "but it's nine months of winter and three months of bad skiing, just too cold for me." So he went back to West Virginia. Learning that he really didn’t like practicing law, he decided to do something he did like, writing, and took a job with the Clarksburg's Exponent Telegram. It turned out his future wife, Marceline, happened to be working as a secretary in the same building as the newspaper. Once they met and married he found a better job with another newspaper in Fairmont, W.Va., and moved his family there.

Weather played a key role in his next move. During the early winter of 1962, when there was two feet of snow on the ground, Young said to his wife, "It has snowed for six weeks and there's at least six more weeks of snow. Let's move to Florida." He says he turned around and she was packing. They settled first in West Palm Beach, but after finding work as an insurance adjuster, he was transferred to Cocoa. This gave him the opportunity to apply to the Orlando Sentinel and soon he was back to work as a writer and columnist. He was assigned to cover NASA but also made a mark as an environmental writer. Articles on the short sightedness of state legislators, who allowed developers to come in and drain submerged bottomland, fill it, develop it and sell it as waterfront lots, when it was public land to begin with, resulted in changes in the laws, a grass roots movement and establishment of aquatic preserves statewide.

Shortly after, Gordon Harris who was director of public affairs offered Young a job and he jumped at it. He was quoted as saying, "I wanted to find out how much they were hiding from me while I was covering NASA for the Sentinel. I was surprised to find out how honest they were."

With a motto of "doesn’t bother us skinny folks," Young was considered the "newsroom gourmet." He would tell visiting reporters and fellow workers about all the best places to eat within a 50-mile radius of the center. However, he was also known for keeping cans of food, like stewed tomatoes, in his desk drawer for lunch or snacks.

He had an encyclopedic memory and was a major reference for news people when they needed a quick fact about past missions or the history of a project.

When he retired in 1994, he said, "I enjoyed working at KSC with people who could make a lot more money working elsewhere, but who chose the space program because they believe in what they do, like what they do and are good at what they do, truly dedicated folks. NASA is an open and honest organization. They never asked me not to tell the truth. I've watched a lot of history in 25 years."

Although he received many awards during his 25-year career with NASA, he was proudest of his "Silver Snoopy," the award given by the astronaut corps and personally presented.

Young passed away in 1998.