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Larry Young, former three-term commissioner, dies at age 75

Larry Young died May 12 at age 75. Larry Young died May 12 at age 75.

Larry R. Young, a three-term Henderson County commissioner who styled himself as a fiscal conservative while later endorsing a variety of major capital improvements, died early today after a period of declining health. He was 75.


“Mr. Young’s outstanding contributions to Henderson County, its government and its citizens will not be forgotten,” County Manager Steve Wyatt said in a news release announcing that flags would fly at half staff in Young’s honor.
A former car dealership service manager, Young, who served from 2002 to 2014, was elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2002 and served during a period of transition. The commissoners adopted a countywide land-use ordinance for the first time and committed to a range of capital projects including schools, the health and human services building, the renovation of the Historic Courthouse, the sheriff's office headquarters and the health sciences building on the Pardee Hospital campus.
“I probably knew Larry about as well as anybody,” said Wyatt, who, like Young, is a McDowell County native. “His public persona did not reveal his heart. He came across as a really tough hombre but he had absolutely a heart for children. That’s why he served on the Board of Commissioners. He wanted to make this county a better place for future generations.”
Throughout his three terms as a commissioner, Young often cast himself as the voice of the taxpayers, opposing some major spending plans. He voted against a $55 million borrowing plan that produced the human services building, a new school and the courthouse renovation. He later endorsed both projects.

He worked to resurrect new Mills River and Hillandale elementary schools that were in danger of being scrapped because of high construction costs.
“Larry was a key driver behind the construction of Mills River and Hillandale schools, of funding them in a cost-effective approach,” Wyatt said. “Larry pushed it. He came to me and said we’ve got to find a way to do these things. He was one of the more conservative board members but I think he wanted to see the money spent wisely.”
When he filed for re-election in 2014 Young recalled how he worked to hire an architectural firm that helped manage construction costs.
"They got up to where we just couldn't afford the bill," he said of the school projects. "They designed Mills River and Hillandale and they even got the LEED green certification, and we built them for 800 students instead of 600 students."
Young, who had known Wyatt's father, took some credit, too, for bringing Wyatt to Henderson County.
"That was another thing I helped get accomplished, was hiring Steve Wyatt as county manager and I don't think many people would say that's not an asset," Young said in 2014. "Shannon Baldwin when he was on the board and myself had a lot to do with getting him hired as county manager."
Young played end on a Marion Rippers team in the late 1950s that Wyatt described as the best Marion team ever. It played for the state championship, ending the season in a loss that Young still lamented years later.

During his 12 years on the Board of Commissioners he also served on the Board of Health, the Hendersonville Zoning Board of Adjustment, Joint School Facilities Committee, Land-of-Sky Regional Council, Library Board of Trustees, Solid Waste Advisory Committee and the Travel & Tourism board.

The commissioner’s fiscal rectitude earned him the nickname Commissioner No among some school teachers and others who believed the county needed to spend on new buildings and other projects. And his tenure was not without controversy. Opponents said he worked behind the scenes with then-Commissioner Bill O’Connor to explore the idea of putting county-owned Pardee Hospital on the market. Although Young denied any connection to the effort, the matter  was one of the issues civil engineer Bill Lapsley used in his successful campaign against Young in 2014. Along with three other commissioners, Young also sided with a crowd of angry residents who opposed a bailout of the Flat Rock Playhouse in 2012, voting to renege on $50,000 worth of funding for the theater. The effort failed in a procedural matter.

As time went on, though, Young climbed aboard a fiscal approach — built under Wyatt’s guidance — that permitted aggressive capital spending while keeping taxes low.
““He came across sometimes as a bull in a china shop but I never questioned at his core his reasons for serving,” Wyatt said. “The health sciences center would not have been possible without him because Larry played an absolutely key role in the retention of Wingate here. I really hate that he is not going to be here to see it up and running. He was on a mission to see that come to fruition.”
Unseen in his public persona, Wyatt added, was a sense of humor and a softer side. “You could beat up on him a little bit and he could take it,” he said.
One time during the holiday season, Wyatt put on Young’s favorite Christmas song, “Hard Candy Christmas.”
“I had to leave the office to do something,” he said. As he walked back, he realized the song has turned into a duet. “He had joined in with Dolly Parton and you could hear him throughout this area of the building.”
Funeral arrangements, which are being handled by Shuler Funeral Home, have not been announced.