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Marlene Duffy Young

Polk County Commission

WINTER HAVEN - Marlene Duffy Young, who championed her community, the environment and the politically voiceless during three decades of private service and public office, died May 22nd from injuries sustained in an auto accident. She was 58.
Known for an optimistic, indomitable spirit that was exceeded only by her energy level, Young became Winter Haven's first elected woman mayor prior to serving three terms on the Polk County Commission.
As both a non-partisan city commissioner and a Democratic county commissioner, she forged alliances on issues ranging from parks, the environment and roads to spousal abuse, hunger and health care.
Her prodigious energy was legendary. A woman of slight build but towering intellect, she used charm, thorough preparation, an impressive ability to articulate the many facets of an issue and relentless determination to shepherd through to completion the issues she felt would improve the lives of her fellow citizens.
One of seven children reared in modest circumstances in upstate New York, Young migrated to Polk County in her twenties, where she immediately began her public service career through volunteer work.
A victim of a kidnapping and attempted rape while in college, she was especially sympathetic toward those who had endured trauma and loss. Such personal experiences helped inform her later concerns.
Young organized the county's first rape crisis center. In the course of setting up its first spousal abuse program, she personally sheltered more than a dozen women in her home. Later she was instrumental in convincing the state to impose a surcharge on marriage license fees to fund spousal abuse programs.
Incensed by the city commission's actions in a land use dispute, she undertook her first political campaign as a grass roots effort run largely by women who had never participated in a political contest. She won.
In office, her approach was to win over critics through the logic of her proposals rather than to engage in confrontation, an attitude that not always carried the day but almost always turned opponents into admirers.
Using levity, a light touch and a renown work ethic, she was able to balance work, family and civic commitments with aplomb - but wasn't above the occasional verbal dart. Once, during a bank dedication ceremony, the bank's president presented her a cardboard check for the city. "Don't try to spend it," he said. Handing him a key to the city, Mayor Young responded, "And don't try to open any doors with this."
In addition to political office, Young served as president of Girls Inc., an officer and director of the Florida League of Cities, president of the Florida Association of Counties, and founding member, executive director and board president of the Community Foundation of Winter Haven. She was recipient of the She Knows Where She's Going award and many other honors.
While serving on the County Commission, Young was the driving force behind the countywide library service. She also urged the county to undertake vast infrastructure improvements. As a commissioner, she risked her political career - and lost it - by supporting a tax increase to fund the county's dilapidated road system.
Whether on or off the political stage, Young quietly continued her service to others. Most Sunday mornings found her cooking a pancake breakfast for the homeless at First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, where she also served on the finance committee, the church board and the Heritage Christian Academy school board.
At home she was a devoted mother who was a stickler for order. Never fearful of experimentation, she was known to paint a room a bold color one day, decide the scheme didn't work the next and repaint it a different but equally bold color a day later. At dinner parties she was the one who helped until the last dish was washed. Friends and family also knew her as a consummate pastry chef.
She held a number of real estate licenses and was a land use consultant to the 6/10 Corporation.
Following a five year courtship, she married Robert Young in 1978. In addition to her husband, she is survived by a son, Christopher, and two daughters, Lauren and Meghan.
A memorial service is scheduled for Friday, May 30th at 11:00 a.m. at First Church of the Nazarene, 244 Avenue D, SW in Winter Haven.
Those wishing to commemorate her community service may send donations to the Marlene Duffy Young Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Winter Haven, PO Box 9445, Winter Haven FL 33883-9445. Condolences may be sent to the family at: www.oakridgefuneralcare.com.
Published in Ledger on May 25, 2008
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