Obituary: John Young AO, FAA FRACP 1936-2004

12 March 2004

The death of Emeritus Professor John Young on 10 February ended a life that had served this university for over 40 years as an outstanding scientist, consummate administrator, practitioner in the humanities and generous mentor, patron and friend, writes Professor of History Ros Pesman.

After graduating in Medicine at the University of Queensland in 1960 with first class honours and the University medal, John Young began further studies at the Kanematsu Institute at Sydney hospital and took up residence at St Paul's College. It was at St Paul's that he met his lifelong companion, Alexander Cambitoglou. On the award of his MD from the University of Queensland, John went on to study with Karl Ullrich in Berlin where he began his groundbreaking work on the salivary glands, an area at that time in its infancy.

In 1966, John Young returned to Sydney to take up a Senior Lectureship in Physiology. A decade later, he was appointed to the Chair. By that time, he was acknowledged as the world expert on the salivary glands. His contribution to scientific knowledge was recognised, among other honours, in his election to Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Sciences and by the award of the prestigious Research Professorship of the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung.

From the 1980s, John's growing scientific reputation was accompanied by his increasing participation in the administration and leadership of the University, becoming Dean of Medicine in 1989 and Pro-Vice-Chancellor in 1994. He was a formidable administrator who knew how to make committees and structures, processes and procedures work - and to his purposes.

The achievements during his time as Dean and Pro-Vice-Chancellor make an impressive list, notably, the graduate program in medicine, the restructuring of the Faculty of Medicine, the welding of the health science faculties into the College, the refurbishing of the Old Medical School and the acquisition and refurbishment, with the support of the Medical Foundation, of a new research building for Medicine. John Young's administrative skills were employed beyond the University and he served on many boards including the Central Sydney Area Health Service, the Children's Hospital at Westmead and the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin.

John Young's interests and expertise ranged far beyond science and University administration. He was attracted to Arts when he left school and, while he did not pursue that path, the passion for the humanities and the arts remained. Deeply and widely read in history, and particularly Roman history and the history of the Reformation, John had an abiding love for music and served on the Council of Music Viva. His wish to extend his knowledge of art history led this Professor of Physiology to enrol - briefly- in Fine Arts 1. He had a love of language and, as those who read and submitted memos to him well know, wrote with precision and elegance and expected the same of others.

It was classical architecture that perhaps most attracted and held the attention of this polymath, and the University has profited much from his support for classical archaeology and Hellenic studies through his commitment to and work for the Australian Archaeological Institute in Athens and through his role in establishing the Nicholson Museum concerts. What John would most want from the University now is its on-going commitment to classical archaeology and to the Institute.

As a true humanist, John Young was also a thoughtful and caring mentor and friend. He was a meticulous supervisor and an assiduous patron for his students, and also for women in their efforts to build careers in universities and hospitals.

A man of much courtesy and civility, John Young was a wonderful host and a brilliant conversationalist who sought to involve colleagues, students and friends in his many faceted world. A man of much propriety and formality, he was also endowed with a delightful quirkiness, a shrewd perception of self and a very fine sense of the measure of things. He cared much about this University and he served it well.

Memorial Ceremony
The University will hold a Memorial Ceremony for the late Emeritus Professor John Young AO on Wednesday, 12 May at 10:30am in the Great Hall. For catering purposes, please email your attendance to or 9351 7812.

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