The Health & Medicine Community Remembers Quentin D. Young - Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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The Health & Medicine Community Remembers Quentin D. Young

March 11, 2016 Written By: Board and Community

As we honor our founder Quentin D. Young and his extraordinary legacy working for social justice, single-payer healthcare, and progressive causes, we invite you to share your pictures, memories, and reflections. We will continue to update this page with remembrances from Health & Medicine Board Members, the community, and all those touched by Quentin. To share your thoughts, email us at We will strive to post as many messages as possible. If you would like to make a donation in Quentin’s memory, you may do so here.

When I was a small child, I knew of Quentin because he was regarded with reverence by my parents because of his positions on civil rights and worker causes. I had encountered Quentin during my residency training at Michael Reese. As a result of all of his advocacy work, he often showed up at the hospital in the evenings to see his patients. He was always quite conversational at those times, and never missed the opportunity to extrapolate the plight of a patient who presented with a late diagnosis to the suffering of the masses and how this country’s failure to provide access to decent health care is killing people. It was seldom about the individuals, it was the application of the plight of the individual to the plight of society and its workers. With his help, I learned the aspect of Medicine that medical education fails to include, but is so crucial if you are going to practice medicine and make a difference.
-Claudia Fegan, Health & Medicine Board President

… the happiest, most indefatigable, unrelenting and optimistic warrior for justice that I have ever known. He walked the state for universal health care… was doctor, friend, and advisor to Mayor Harold Washington; and never missed a chance to weigh in on what is now known as Obamacare. My physician (until he retired without my permission) and friend, Quentin has been the nationally recognized, erudite and silver-tounged spokesperson and irrepressible cheerleader for a single-payner national health care system.
-US Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky

What a life! This genial and brilliant Colossus, who strode among us, so modestly, determinedly, productively, and with such humor, thank goodness, for so long.
-Jack Warren Salmon, Health & Medicine Board Member

A hero or heroine is someone that you admire for what they have accomplished, can look up to for guidance, and offers inspiration when you need support.  To have known Quentin Young in this capacity, not only as my personal hero, but as a dear friend for 35 years as well, is something that I will long treasure.

When you were in Quentin’s presence, whether at a meeting or protest, as a radio listener or reader of his commentaries, you knew that no matter the invariably articulate point he was making, that he was a champion for not only what was right, but also for the rights of those who were marginalized, oppressed, or had no voice.

Quentin’s legacy will be memorialized not only by his innumerable contributions — such as the two causes I was fortunate enough to join with him, The Committee to Save Cook County Hospital, and the founding of the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group — but his impact on future generations to come.   While Quentin was truly a leader in the sense that he created other leaders, he was even more of a role model consistent with the philosophy of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, “Do something wonderful, others may imitate it”.

Quentin’s spirit will live on in all those imitating and in solidarity with his lifelong fight for social justice and peace.  He will be missed.
-Lon Berkeley, Health & Medicine Board Member

…an agitator and health activist, whose lifelong question for equality inspired an degeneration of physicians, nurses and public health activists to follow his lead.
-David Ansell, MD

Quentin was our teacher and mentor… Quentin showed us the idea of having power by sharing information. Instead of hoarding information, Quentin was the opposite of that due to some combination of his ego, where he had to tell everybody everything, his democratic impulses and his strategic understanding of how information is power. He embodied his favorite quote of Fredrick Douglass, “knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.” Another illustration of something profoundly influential that Quentin taught us was speaking truth to power. He didn’t shrink away, never hid his politics and never compromised his ideas. At County, we would converge at his office at the end of the day, yell at him and he would tell us what happened and why. That message of open communication resonated with us County and that style of dealing with people is now widespread throughout this city because of Quentin.
Gordon Schiff, M.D.

…an “old” white doc (several years older than my parents) did not capture sustained attention of a young Black radical. Little did I realize in those early years how Quentin would intertwine with my life and profoundly affect my professional career…. He sat in our school’s Department of Preventative Medicine. He offered a clear understanding of the failures of American Medicine. He established a successful Urban Preceptorship for medical students, showing us the warts of the system and more importantly how to change things. “Everything, poverty, housing, jobs, racism… everything impacts the health of your patients.” This was Quentin’s message. Choosing to do my residency under Quentin at Cook County Hospital changed my life. I am a product of Quentin’s residency; I am one of his professional children. His style of medicine penetrated the entire department, his work ethic, his optimism, and his joy of caring for patients was imprinted on “his children.” His day to day work merged his high quality technical practice of clinical medicine with his insistence on fighting racism and injustice. Before Quentin, I had envisioned my career as a physician being my nine to five; saving my struggle for justice for after work hours. During the County years, Quentin seamlessly went from rounds to case discussions to phone conversations with reporters. He showed us that there was no way to practice medicine without including the fight to improve all of the conditions of life and society that make our patients healthy or sick.  -Linda Rae Murray, Health & Medicine Board Member

My favorite memory: I was interviewing Quentin over Skype. All of a sudden he said he had  to cut the interview short.  He said he had to hurry over to the plaza at the federal building to attend an Occupy Wall Street rally.  It was a cold, blustery day in late October, a hint of snow.  And here was this man, almost 90, still so damn committed that he was braving elements that would have kept folks half or a quarter his age indoors.  What energy and passion. It’s hard to imagine that he’s gone.  I cherish the time I had working with him and learning from him.
-Steve Fiffer

What to say?? There are no words. He was a one-of-a-kind man. I will always remember him as the man who KNEW what America needed to do to provide real healthcare to ALL Americans and I predict he will smile down on us when the current system finally collapses upon itself and we get there. I am sorry for HMPRG’s loss and can only imagine how you are feeling. His vision lives on with you.
-Marca Bristo

I feel privileged to have known him.  I loved reading his book that gave  great insight into Quentin, his motivations and the history of public health in Chicago.  I told him this and his face lit up with delight and asked if I liked it.  I was struck by his sincerity in asking the question.  I told him that I not only liked it but was inspired by the book, and by everything that Quentin stood/stands for.  He was a monumental leader whose influence will live on in all of the people he has touched with his commitment to health care and social justice. 
-Phyllis Mitzen, Consultant, Health & Medicine’s Center for Long-Term Care Reform

Quentin was a warrior for all that was right and true. But he was also a person of passion for many things (theater, art) and absolutely committed to the science of medicine. He, as much as anyone I have ever met, mixed a deep concern for the individual and the global. I loved that he cared equally about his patients and the national health system. And he always had a smile on his face and a wonderful twinkly in his eye.

On a personal level I will always be eternally grateful to Quentin. Chairing the Board of Health & Medicine was the first major civic role of my life. It opened to me a door to a new way to contribute. I very much hope Quentin would be happy with what I have done since.
-Hank Webber, Former Health & Medicine Board President

Even though it was clear that Quent’s death was approaching, it was a blow. What I remember best is what a truly happy warrior Quent was–never crossing the line from moral outrage into empty zealotry but always taking personal action, and often leavened with humor. One of the great moments in Quent’s career–and certainly the funniest transcript in the Congressional Record–was Quent’s confrontation with the House Unamerican Activities Committee, during which he cheerfully but totally befuddled, confused, deranged and bewildered those eager communist-hunters until they just gave up in exasperation.

On that day, he was the Casey Stengel of the progressive movement. It’s the way I would like to rremember him, among his many courageous episodes in our  long friendship that began in the mid-1940s.
-Jack Geiger

Quentin and I were companions on the road to social justice for 60 years. He had a relentless passion for the common good and fought and won many battles. But whatever the struggle or crisis, he was a Happy Warrior, never showing disrespect, always honoring civility.

Certainly his powers of persuasion were unequaled. He loved language and magically wove his words into an invincible argument.  When an adversary responded, he smiled. And then his magic won the day.

He was a man of great faith. No amount of national decline ever brought him low. He was committed year after year to the health of our people and our nation. His optimism sparked new fires in the hearts and souls of the thousands he inspired. And so his spirit lives on in the memory and commitment of all of us.

His spirit also lives on in the organization he created to embody and advocate for his vision – Health and Medicine Policy Research Group. His work in creating HMPRG’s firm foundation has resulted in an enduring, visionary, tough and effective, citizen’s health advocacy group unequaled in the United States.

So Quentin, you are with us. In our memories. In our commitments. And in the great organization you created to lead us on to social justice.

We thank you, good and loyal friend.
-John McKnight

This news made me sad, but the images and memories of Quentin made me smile. He was a warrior; but the nicest, most compassionate, and principled warrior ever.

My sympathy to you and all of the great people at HMPRG who have been fighting the good fight and implementing Quentin’s vision and values all these years.
-Edward F. Lawlor, Dean and William E. Gordon Distinguished Professor, Brown School , Washington University in St. Louis

It was with great sadness but pride for his legacy that we learned of Dr. Quentin D. Young’s death on Monday.

Dr. Young dedicated his life to fighting for quality health care for all, particularly underserved patients, including people with disabilities. The Community Care Alliance of Illinois is so grateful for Dr. Young’s lifelong dedication to patient-centered health care and his tireless advocacy to improve health care for underserved communities.

In 2010, Dr. Young, the founder and long-time chairman of the Health & Medicine Policy Group, joined with other advocates for health care and people who are disabled to found the Community Care Alliance of Illinois.

“Dr. Young was an activist and an advocate for improved health care policy and improved public health. Truly “the people’s physician,” Dr. Young was a dedicated supporter of person-centered, coordinated care for people who are disabled,” said CCAI President Robert Currie.

CCAI is a Managed Care Community Network serving people with disabilities and seniors on Medicaid in Chicago and Rockford areas. For more information on our innovative Model of Care and service, please visit
-Statement of Community Care Alliance of Illinois

I have very fond memories of Dr. Young from my young student nurse years at Cook County School of Nursing in the early to mid 70’s. Our school supported the first physician house staff strike led by Dr. Young, our hero, teaching  us the important lesson that we weren’t just new health professionals but modeling our future responsibility to the under-served in our society. Many of us have carried that vital message on through activism and advocacy throughout our careers.

One of my fellow Cook County alumna, though she lives in Florida, followed him for health care throughout  our adult lives; she just never quite felt comfortable with any other provider. Shirley Jackson Bovia, class of 1972 was also, like the rest of us was very saddened to hear of his passing. Oh the memories of us in those maidenly Cook County School of Nursing uniforms, with our little nursing caps propped properly on our heads, running out to assure the striking docs had hot coffee, snacks to eat and new signs, while fearing for our own potential back lash from our conservative powers to be at the School of Nursing. Many of us received our advocacy wings during this period and have been in flight since that period.

It is with much sadness that I received the  message of his passing but certainly he was one of the giants of public health and did much to contribute to the social well-fare of mankind. The world gained from his presence, which is the most anyone can hope for. R.I.P Dr. Quentin Young for a job well done and many lives that were touched!!
-Dorothy Wright Murphy, Retired-Cermak Health Services/Director of Infection Control/TB/STD/HIV

A friend told me he found a letter to the editor published in 1947 which Young wrote, when he was a medical student at Northwestern, to condemn the AMA for racism. His was a life of activism and principle. He was doctor to Martin Luther King and also at least some members of the Chicago 7.
-Howard Wolinsky, former Chicago Tribune reporter

While I have known Quentin  for many years, I worked closely with him (and 28 others) on the State of Illinois’ Adequate Heath Care Task Force from 2005-2007.  This was legislation initiated by then State Senator Barack Obama and was charged with developing an approach to covering the under-and uninsured in Illinois.

29 members were appointed by legislators based on recommendations from community organizations. I was elected Chair of the group and had Quentin, Ruth Rothstein and David Koehler as the Vice Chairs.

After months of investigations and presentations, we developed an approach which pre-dated the ACA as it covered the uninsured via tax credits and subsidies and “gored everyone’s ox” by recommending an insurance, employer and individual mandate. In the end, the model was passed unanimously with 2 minority reports, one of which was from Quentin and Ruth for a single payer plan, which I voted for as well.

As you might imagine, our deliberations were intense given the varied and disparate interests on the Task Force. Attempting to reign in such strong personalities was not easy, but, in the end, Quentin was an advocate for the plan even if it didn’t go as far as he would have liked.

It was an honor to chair that group and get to know Quentin as well as I did.

While not all will agree with his approaches, no one can deny his intent and focus. Coverage, access, continuity of care, fairness/equity, and respect were just some of the tenets of his positions. We will miss Dr. Young, not only for what he accomplished but for what he reminded us of, each and every day.
– Wayne M. Lerner, Director, Cook County Health and Hospitals System Board

Quentin and I go back a very long ways together.  He always called me “young man” because I was younger than he by a miniscule number of months.  We never stopped agreeing to disagree!  When I was elected to the Illinois General Assembly, he was an ever-present enquirer about “what was going on in Springfield”.  I urged him to run for a seat in the Illinois Senate and encouraged him to come on the Board of the Chicago Institute of Medicine, imploring him to join me in our joint “socialistic” endeavors, but the elective route was not his thing.  He was a born activist, and he even included his activism during his tenure as President of APHA and chief of medicine at Cook County Hospital.  What made Quentin different from others of us in the cause of health care justice was his extraordinary depth of knowledge of meaningful facts.  If you wanted to know “why”, he had the numbers to back up his advocacies.  No one was a stronger advocate of “single payer”.  He hooked on to that movement eons ago and never backed off.  When we stood side-by-side in Balboa Park, condemning our involvement in the Vietnam War, he was jotting down notes for a speech he was to give the following morning on National Health Insurance.  I don’t know for sure, but I can’t imagine that he was not one of Bernie Sanders’ strongest teachers and backers.  Using his low-key sense of humor, he was very serious about the causes he espoused.  I don’t believe that he ever achieved professorhood, but he was a professor to thousands of young people.  The sixties was our time because money flowed from Kennedy and Johnson’s check books to Chicago and elsewhere.  One of my proudest moments was running the student health movement in Chicago in the mid-sixties with him, where an unbelievable number of health care programs and facilities originated, many of which are around (e.g. Mile Square) to this day.  My career recently led to my return to my roots at UIC,. The last time I saw him, I was proud to stand up with him as our presence was acknowledged by Dean Brandt-Rauf at a big UIC School of Public Health event at the Field Museum.  We hadn’t seen each other since, but I always instinctively knew that his agile brain and unbelievable commitment to health care justice was keeping him active somewhere.  His physical presence will be missed, but his spirit and influence will be with us forever.
-Bruce Douglas, Professor, School of Public Health and College of Dentistry, UIC  

In early 1980 (maybe it was late ’79) I attended a talk by Barry Commoner — the Bernie Sanders of his day — who was considering a run for President  (on a third party ticket against Carter and Reagan). Commoner gave a fine speech but I was more taken with the energetic young man who had Introduced him  — a boyish and witty guy who spoke with passion in long compound sentences about the need for progressive change. He inspired me to introduce myself afterwards and I volunteered  to work in the campaign.

The man, of course, was Quentin, and he was not about my age of 28 as I’d thought from the back of the room, but as I found out later was more than twice as old. Quentin’s youthful spirit was always to me his most prominent feature.

I ended up working full time for the Commoner campaign. Quentin was our spiritual leader and my political guru. There are lots if tales from that quixotic campaign but I remember the time he called to gently let me know that some people were concerned that the team of phone bankers I’d hired were members of a radical cadre devoted to one faction or another of a Chinese communist feud . I asked if they shoud be let go and he asked whether they were doing a good job on the phone. When I told him they were very effective he only said , “Good, then keep them.” Quentin made sure the Citizens Party had a big (left) tent.

Anyhow, not  much came out of that campaign, at least not many votes in the election. But when I was out collecring ballot access signatures on North Avenue beach one Saturday, I met Myrtis, the love of my life. I give Quentin credit for that, and the three extraordinary daughters that resulted are part of the next generation of progressive activists that will help carry on his legacy.
-Marty Cohen

Quentin was such a giant influence on so many progressive health workers and his patients also. He is sorely missed. It is a great comfort though that so much of what he worked on is being carried forward by many more! Quentin Young, Presente!, Presente!, Presente!
-Tim K. Takaro, Professor and Chair, Simon Fraser University

We are all so much better for having known him. Certainly he will be missed, but will live on for all of us. He was always way ahead of most of us in terms of being on the right side of every issue. The man we would most like to be when we grow up.

-Jim Webster, Professor of Medicine Emeritus, Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University

Quentin Young comforted the afflicted, and afflicted the comfortable.  His wit, political smarts, and deep humanity will surely always inspire the many who knew him.
-Ellen R. Shaffer, Co-Director, Center for Policy Analysis

We all thought he was immortal– and somehow a world without QDY in it will lose the modicum of trenchant analysis of affronts to justice–presented civilly, rationally, passionately and eloquently. He was both mentor and monument to the successful way to bring about positive change.
-Karin Pritikin, Past Development Officer, Health & Medicine

I have been reminiscing a lot about Quentin, and remembering the first time I met him, which was in 1998, when he came to our community to help with our public health expansion effort. We spent the whole day together in meetings and events, and then when it was time for the Annual Awards Dinner, I brought him to the dinner, and I remember when he found out that I couldn’t sit at the head table with him and he was really disappointed — it was really sweet! He touched my heart. To see this sweetness from this fierce and dedicated and true activist was very touching.
-Claudia Lennhoff, Executive Director, Champaign County Health Care Consumers

Quentin was an unfailing source of energy and optimism.  When I worked on the newspaper HEALTH RIGHTS NEWS, he was the guiding light as well as the chairman of Medical Committee for Human Rights.  The most impressive event I attended was Quentin’s 60th birthday party.  Person after person spoke and told how Quentin had founded the organization or campaign most dear to that speaker — what seemed like all the Left organizations in Chicago and all the progressive medical organizations nationally.
-Judith Kegan Gardiner

Quentin gave a lecture for medical students at the U of Chicago. It was the only exposure we had to the problems with the economics of American health care. It was powerful and vital, and it informed my thinking and attitudes for the rest of my career.

Quentin also organized a meeting to keep radio station WFMT from using recorded advertisements.  It was so inspiring that I got up the courage to speak to a crowd of strangers. And it worked!
-Nada Stotland, MD, MPH

I will always respect him for his tremendous work in civil rights and equality especially in health care. Chicago is a much better city because of  his efforts for all of its citizens. I went to his talks and was personally and professionally enriched by his ideas.

My favorite memory of Dr. Young, however, is a personal one. He knew my husband for many years before we were married. When I was about 7 months, largely pregnant, with our son we were all talking and suddenly he asked me if he could rub my tummy. I, of course, said “Yes!” and this old as humankind, expression of reverence and joy for new life and a blessing for my son happened. I also think my son kicked him!

He will be missed by everyone.
-Margaret Aguilar RN, CNP

A great man will be missed. He was so passionate about the community at large and I was privileged to be a Schweitzer Fellow.
He invited us into his home and counseled us, guided us and taught us the true meaning of community health. Thank you Dr. Young.

-Gene Majka, MS ARNP

As a resident and junior attending in neurosurgery (1970s & 1980s)  I fondly recall presenting cases in his office in the back conference room, I believe on the second floor of the main building. As it was in the Department of Medicine it was not often neurosurgery presented there, but he was so friendly, congenial and genuinely happy I came there, and it was clear you were in the presence of a very special man. During the 1975 house-staff strike I was one of the few surgical residents (Surgical Department did not support the strike) to participate because I was on a laboratory research rotation, and fortunate to experience  Dr Young’s demeanor and role. Later he sent me several private patients from his Hyde Park office to be cared for at Cook County Hospital, and I was so honored to receive his patients, and provide feedback him after their surgery. I know of so many young physicians who were similarly impacted by the opportunities, and genuine confidence he instilled in them.
-James Stone

Quentin David Young was an extraordinary human.  But clearly I am biased by his many personal kindnesses and support to a young aspiring communist college activist and later as a medical student and still later as a resident and young physician.   Thank you for sharing your home and family with this outsider from NY.  Thank you for allowing me to get to know your children and feel some of their sorrow today.

Quentin’s presence was a constant provider of space for young physicians to develop progressive programs and ideas.  For over 60 years, he opened and stimulated debates on every socially progressive issue that was, either unpopular with or unknown to, the vast majority of physicians.  His participation in those movements was never without critique and differences in approach but the support was constant and committed.  On countless occasions, most unheralded and many without the knowledge of the beneficiaries, he provided interference and defense when the far more powerful enemy came knocking.   For his ideas, and not in small part for his support to others, he suffered a history of firings and exclusions extending from his sacrificial firing by Mayor Daley in the 1950s to the current day.   For this unstinting and unselfish support, his name and reputation became legend with all those movements confronting the status quo who understood Frederick Douglas’ famous quote that power concedes nothing without struggle.

Yet through all the struggle and confrontations his ability to reach out and convince those on the fence or even in frank opposition never lessened.  I am sure the attendance at this memorial attests to these facts.  Thank you Quentin you will be missed.  It is comforting to note that as the movement continues to grow many will take your place but none replace you. 
-Peter Orris, MD, MPH

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Quentin Yoiung who has been such a catalyst for good during his entire educational and medical career.  I initially met Quentin when we were both members of the medical staff of Michael Reese Hospital, an institution very much in the mold of his view of health care delivery, which unfortunately eventually succumbed to “market forces.” I was active in various south side public health efforts and served on Congressman Harold Washington’s task force for greater access to medical services in his district.  As a Canadian medical graduate I had seen single payer work satisfactorily and not be a financial burden to the state.

I joined PHNP with the hope of advancing single payer, recognizing the huge impediment of the hundreds of members of the health care lobby  and the campaign spending of the pharmaceutical, health insurance, and hospital administrative staffs.  This was brought into sharp relief at a dinner hosted by Dr. Young in his Hyde Park apartment for the PHNP and Dr. Margaret Flowers, shortly after she had been jailed by Senator Baucus for demanding that single payer be “on the table” with a nascent Obamacare.  Glancing around the room at our group of predominantly older, tweed-jacketed, thoughtful physicians,  I imagined our little group oi thirty or so at one end of a football field and a herd of several hundred  pharma-insurance-MBA types at the other, and we were running to catch the football.  That   poignant fantasy has been rendered obsolete by the cheering crowds and multiple state primary wins by Bernie Sanders.  I am so happy that Quentin was present for this happy loud shouting for something he had long supported.   
-Charles N Swisher, MD

The life of Quentin Young had many facets over the years.  Our first meeting came in the fall of 1972 when I attended the monthly meeting of the Metropolitan Chicago Health Planning Agency.  He was a guest speaker who brought a special perspective to local and regional health issues.  We became much closer when, at the suggestion of the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, I met with Quentin to discuss my interest in joining the Board of  the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, an association that lasted until 2014.  Quentin and I were sitting together in New York when he was elected President of the American Public Health Association, an honor he richly deserved.  His life has been a commitment to improving the life and health of those who through poverty or ignorance were destined to have lives filled with pain, anxiety and hopelessness.  He was always hopeful, fearless, and willing to make the effort to produce changes that would benefit everyone.  Of course we will miss him, but he has left a legacy of hope and commitment that will be a lasting contribution to all of us. 
-Benjamin Squires