Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Goodbye, Dad - James D Young (1931-2012)

On Sunday at quarter to eight in the morning, my father died. He was at home with his family. He had been ill for some time but in his final days the deterioration was fast. We were extremely close and I am heartbroken that he's gone but hugely grateful that I had this man as my father.
His story is a remarkable one. Born in 1931 into a working class family, economic necessity meant that he had to leave school at fourteen to go and work as a laborer in the local saw mill. Hard, back breaking work for someone of that age but in those days there was no choice.
A job working as a checker on the railways followed and with it came a growing political awareness and involvement with the trade union movement. It was through the unions that he won a scholarship to Newbattle Abbey College to study under Edwin Muir before going on to Oxford, and Strathclyde, ultimately gaining his PhD and a teaching job at Stirling University. His first book, the seminal work, The Rousing of The Scottish Working Class, was published in 1979 but before then he had made a name for himself by being the only faculty member to support student opposition and occupation of the campus buildings in protest at a visit by the Queen. It was one moment, along with fighting hand to hand battles with the fascists when he lived in London, and being described in the House of Commons as being 'to the left of Lenin', that he was most proud of. His autobiography was entitled Making Trouble. He also blazed a trail when it came to documenting the history of working class women in Scotland with his book Women and Popular Struggles.
He was an international socialist with a strong love of his country. He hated totalitarianism in all its forms - state communism and Stalinism was as much despised as fascism. He saw a system of privilege and patronage and class bias around him that was deeply unfair and led to so much wasted talent.
JD as we called him, as well as Jim, Jimmy, and plain Dad, was a prolific scholar - producing dozens of books. He was still working on a new biography of Irish republican James Connolly until a few weeks before his death. My earliest memories are of waking to the sound of the flying keys of his manual typewriter. He wrote as he lived - boldly, and with passion, unwilling to be cowed and always ready to stand up for his family and those who had no one to stand up for them. He had made the decision early on in life that you could go for the easy option and live on your knees or stand on your feet. He stood on his feet. It cost him dearly at times but he never once complained about the consequences.
He was a remarkable man who has left a proud legacy. I loved him. I still do. I'll miss him every day.


  1. The trouble with having special Dads is that you feel a part of yourself has been taken away. No matter how many friends try to gee one up by kindly saying things like ... 'thoughts and prayers', 'we are thinking of you', 'hope you get comfort from the memories' etc etc, it doesn't really help.

    The only thing I felt was how lucky I had been to have had a fascinating, interesting and generous father, who was noticed in the world. Small crumb of comfort, but you will feel the same.

    You will miss him horribly. But I guess that is the best honour a son can bestow on his father. your Dad would approve of that.

  2. So sorry to hear of your father's passing Sean, he was clearly a man who made his mark on the world and was no doubt immensely proud that you have achieved the same.
    Best wishes mate.

  3. Sean,
    I recently heard the sad news that your father had died and I wanted to offer a small note of condolence. I met J.D. about eighteen years ago when I was embarking on research for my PhD. thesis. He invited me to meet him in a pub in Polmont and, over the course of two or three hours (and several beers), he proceeded to provide me with great advice and encouragement. After our meeting I walked away with an array of ideas, the names of contacts, a list of archives, and his own personal microfilm of James Connolly's letters. What I remember most, however, is the feeling of confidence that your father gave me at a time when I was hearing many voices of discouragement. Prior to the meeting I was told that J.D. could be a “prickly” character, but I encountered only a welcoming, genial, mentor. He was delighted that I was digging into an area of history that he seemed to be mining single-handedly. His Rousing of the Scottish Working Class influenced my study of Scottish history and inspired me to continue it at post-graduate level. I am very grateful to your father for helping me out all those years ago. I am sorry to hear of his passing but I am sure you have great memories of him as a father, a teacher, and an “accuser of capitalism.”
    John Frame