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Celebrating a life
beautifully lived

Posted June 20, 2006

It is only now that that many croquet players will discover the true dimensions of John Young’s life and work – a man who, in the words of a granddaughter, “taught us how to live life beautifully.” Croquet was a big part of it, but only a part. This tribute from Ted Prentis and members of the Young family, along with reports from the Bermuda press, presents a composite picture of a much beloved sportsman and family man, and of a life richly lived.

Time magazine called John and Nelga Young “the remarkable couple of croquet.” This composite picture by Bob Kroeger graced the program cover of the last Bermuda Invitational.

In the words of Ted Prentis
long-time champion and pro:

John and Nelga Young, married in 1938, created the first Bermuda cottage colony resort in the 1950's and named it Lantana Colony. It grew to include 68 detached cottages, each with a pool or access to the beach, two restaurants and many other amenities. It was here that John installed his first croquet lawn, and he later encouraged courts to be set up at Coral Beach, and Duncan and Hilda McMartin's patio- shaped Elephant Walk. The first Bermuda Invitational tournaments were held there starting in 1969.

At the time – almost ten years before Jack Osborn formed the USCA - six-wicket American Rules croquet tournaments were played only in New York City's Central Park, at Palm Beach's Colony Hotel (and later The Breakers) and in Bermuda. John and Nelga attended all of them, from the very first, although initially Nelga was not allowed to play until she beat John in Central Park during the NYCC's fall tournament, much to his surprise and the delight of all of the other players. That was the beginning of their long odyssey as croquet’s most famous and ubiquitous playing couple.

Throughout the 1970's, 80's, and 90's John and Nelga played in a record number of tournaments nationwide. They were quite simply omnipresent. Although their Lantana Colony was hugely successful, even during the summer peak season; John and Nelga were able to get away to play in the all the biggest tournaments in the Northeast. During the rest of the year they traveled extensively across the United States for competitions. Somewhere along the way, John built the first full-sized court to be built in Bermuda at Lantana, replete with a gigantic elephant-sculpted hedge courtside and a hospitality tent offering a spectacular view of the lawn and the Great Sound. Many a Bermuda Invitational final awards luncheon took place at that venue, adding a notable crescendo to what was indisputably the most elegant and fun tournament of the year.

John's avid promotion of croquet sparked the creation of the McMartin's incredible mountain-top court at 'Elephant Walk' in Tuckerstown, Dick and Jeannie Pearman's two courts at their beautiful home 'Calithea' in Paget, and Bayfield Clarke's magnificent croquet lawn in Somerset.

Throughout his life John remained at the helm of the Bermuda Croquet Club, one of the five founding clubs of the United States Croquet Association. He embodied the very best of 'old school' croquet. Before the formation of the USCA, players did not wear whites. Ladies dressed most elegantly in top of the line designer slacks and blouses and the gentlemen were clad in everything from Acapulco shirts and slacks to Polo shorts and shirts with the occasional dress shirt and tie thrown in for good measure. John dressed splendidly in matching lime green, peach, or tropical colored shirt and slacks and always wore his trademark ascot smartly fastened at the neck by a gold clasp - a tradition he maintained after we all had converted to 'whites'.

Even his tournaments had a special color scheme. When double banking was first introduced, the Bermuda Club used 'second color' balls (green, pink, brown, and white) as is traditional in England. It is generally acknowledged that the only second-color deadness boards to exist can be found in Bermuda.

John and Nelga's unflagging support and devotion to the game and the formation of the USCA and Croquet Foundation of America led to their induction to the U.S. Croquet Hall of Fame in the early 1980's.

As a player, no one was more eager and active in competition than John Young. In the years before the Solomon and Carter International Test Matches, John represented both the United States and Bermuda in the USCA Challenge Cup Matches against various international teams throughout the 1980's. Although John narrowly missed winning the USCA National Doubles title with his good friend and fellow Bermudian Dick Pearman, his list of club, regional and invitational titles is most impressive.

But it wasn't his excellent competition record that made John so notable and memorable to all of us, it was John himself. He was one of the most affable and gentlemanly players to ever pick up a mallet. His favorite and almost exclusive expletive was 'frig'! His thick Bermuda accent and genuinely broad smile accented every joke or story he told - and he loved to tell them. What became clearly evident from the first time you met John Young was that he loved life, and one of his great joys in life was playing croquet.

Although no actual records are kept on this, it is widely believed that John never sat down while playing a croquet match, not ever. He was always ready to play his next turn. It was joked that whenever John had gotten into a four-ball break, it would quickly dissolve into a two-ball break simply because a two-ball break required fewer shots to get around the course. John was a fantastic single-ball shot and loved the long full role, which he called a 'trundle'.

John was both magnanimous and humble in victory on the court, and quick with a heartfelt handshake and a smile for those who managed to best him. But win or lose, John took only the briefest moment to reflect before looking for his next game. He was never a slow player, and when some mishap brought his break to a halt,, with a gleam in his eye and an impish grin he would reach down to put up his clip, then stand up, sweep his arm while snapping his fingers and say - 'SUGAR' (pronounced 'Shugarr'), and then walk off the court and stand ready to play his next turn.

John Young lived a rich and happy life. He adored his wife Nelga and his family. He loved his friends, his art collection, his life-long passion ‘Lantana’ and sports - particularly croquet. Those of us who were so fortunate to know him will always remember him and smile and be assured that at least once in our lives we knew someone who had gotten it right. From start to finish, John Young really did get it right.

Views of the Lantana courts, players, and spectators at the 2005 Bermuda Croquet Invitational. Photos by John Hinson Young III.

The Bermuda Press Eulogizes John Young as a major arts benefactor

To Bermudians, John Young’s most visible and lasting legacy will reside perpetually in the Bermuda National Gallery. John and Nelga gave their entire collection of art to the gallery, constituting the largest ever gift to the institution. Here are quotes from the Bermuda press:

“Lantana became Mr. Young’s ‘museum without walls’ after he decorated the resort’s beautiful gardens with sculptures and other art forms. Last year Mr. Young and his wife Nelga bequeathed their collection of 68 paintings and sculptures to the Bermuda National Gallery along with a significant endowment to provide for its ongoing care and upkeep.”

“’The gift was probably the largest to the arts ever in Bermuda,’ said David White, Chairman of the BNG. Known as The John Hinson Young II and Nelga Young Collection, it is the single largest private donation ever to the BNG and culturally the most important since Hereward T. Watlington bequeathed the Watlington Collection of European paintings to the island in 1992.”

“The Young Collection includes work by both local and foreign artists like sculptors John Robinson and Enzo Plazotta, Mexican painter and sculptor Francisco Zuniga, Italian artist Nicola Simbari, French painter Elisée Maclet, American artist Morris Broderson and Bermuda works by Desmond Fountain, John Kaufmann, Charles Lloyd Tucker and marine painter Stephen J. Card, who is Young’s nephew.

“At the time of the donation last June BNG curator David Mitchell said: ‘To give some context as to the size of this gift, the BNG collection presently has about 350 pieces so the effect of this bequest on our collections is huge.’

“Some works will add to the BNG’s Bermuda Collection, 44 pieces will more than double the size of the Modern Collection and two Plazotta sculptures — castings of well-known pieces in London “Jeté” and “Young Dancer” — will help form the beginnings of a National Sculpture Collection to be placed on permanent display in public areas of the city.

“When a grandchild asked why he had bought a particular painting, Mr. Young would point out an intricate detail that had caught his eye or a technique that had connected him with the artist or painting.

“Mrs. Leseur said it was her father’s greatest wish that his art collection should remain together in Bermuda for the enjoyment of future generations of Bermuda for many years to come. As originally planned, The Young Collection is still set to go on display at the Bermuda National Gallery in September after the Biennial.”

Lantana developer John Young dies, aged 90
Excerpts from the obituary of May 10, 2006, in The Royal Gazette of Bermuda

John Young was the last survivor of Bermuda’s first Olympic team, which competed in the 1936 Berlin Games.

Last summer he and wife Nelga gifted 68 paintings and sculptures from their private collection to the Bermuda National Gallery, including an endowment to pay for the maintenance of the art work.

But it is the creation of one of the first cottage colony resorts, Lantana in Somerset, during the 1950s, for which he will be most remembered. Young reluctantly shut Lantana’s doors in 1998, but the resort kept its reputation for friendliness and excellent service to the end. New owners may reopen Lantana next year.

Mr. Young had been ill since last June and was most recently being cared for at the Westmeath Nursing Home.

Grandson John Young III, assistant manager at Tucker’s Point Residential Club, said: “He was influential in all our lives. He did a lot for Bermuda and he did a lot for his children and his grandchildren. As a youngster he included me in fun things. If it had not been for him I would not be where I am today.”

Mr. Young’s daughter Penne Leseur said: “We and his friends are glad that he had a wonderfully long life. He went to work when he was 14 and accomplished so much.”

He celebrated his 90th birthday in January and is the ninth generation of the Young family in Somerset, the family name on the Island dating back to the 1600s.

Many will remember his long working relationship with Front Street wholesale merchant Arthur Gorham and subsequently setting up his own business at Collector’s Hill where the Apothecary now stands.

His father was a coppersmith and farmer at Scaur Hill. As a youngster Mr. Young fed livestock and helped make wooden boxes to transport produce to Hamilton to be sold. A crippling accident that befell his father meant the 14-year-old Mr. Young had to give up his studies at Saltus Grammar School to begin work.

Always an avid sportsman, as a 20-year-old he competed in the Berlin Olympics in the 100 metres freestyle swimming race with Bermuda’s first Olympic team. Much of his training entailed jumping off Somerset Bridge and swimming to Hamilton to train at the Princess Hotel before swimming home.

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