Obituary: Hugh Young / Beloved longtime physics professor at CMU

Nov. 3, 1930 - Aug. 20, 2013

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As a physics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Hugh David Young was known for writing one of the most widely used introductory textbooks in his field -- and for hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

Every year, he and his wife, Alice Carroll, invited students from the department to their Squirrel Hill home for holiday dinner, where they would dress up, mingle with the family and often play Monopoly.

"I knew I was coming to the home of the premier physics educators in the world," said Steve Garoff, the incoming head of the physics department, who joined the faculty in 1988. "If there was one teacher you learned from, it was Hugh.

"What I didn't know -- from afar -- was his impact on students outside his classroom."

Mr. Young died Tuesday after a short hospice stay at Presbyterian Senior Care in Oakmont. He was 82 and had dementia.

Mr. Garoff described Mr. Young as both a mentor and colleague. He recalled often sitting in the man's office, in a broken chair by the window, as Mr. Young would contemplate whatever scenario Mr. Garoff had presented.

As an instructor, Mr. Young was known for being tough, his friend said.

Still, the man was popular on campus, and it seemed that everyone knew him.

"I would do anything to know the secret of being that tough and that loved," Mr. Garoff said.

Mr. Young's exams were difficult, he continued, but because of the clarity he offered in his lectures, the students didn't know it. "He was so brilliant. His mind was so boggling; there was so much in it," Ms. Carroll said.

Rebecca Young, their youngest daughter, said her father was the smartest man she knew -- one who could fix anything.

Her childhood friend once said of Mr. Young, "You ask him what time it is, and he'd tell you how to build a clock."

Mr. Garoff described his colleague as "kind. There's not another word that would be more apt."

Ms. Carroll said, "He cared about everyone."

Mr. Young retired from CMU in 2004 -- after spending more than 50 years at the university.

Even after that, though, Mr. Young maintained an office and continued to revise his books, including University Physics, which is in its 13th edition and still one of the most widely used introductory textbooks in the field.

One of Mr. Young's great contributions to the program, Mr. Garoff said, was the creation of a class, The Physics of Musical Sound, which remains one of the most popular elective classes in the department.

"It's serious physics with serious music knowledge but presented in a way for non-majors to appreciate it," Mr. Garoff said. "He loved music and wanted to find a way to bring that to students."

Mr. Young's passion led him to earn a degree in music performance from CMU's College of Fine Arts in 1972. He also took the exam for the American Guild of Organists and earned an associate degree.

For many years, Mr. Young and his wife would take organized "organ trips," traveling to various countries to view and play organs used by famous performers. "They were fantastic," Ms. Carroll said.

Among those trips was one that took Mr. Young and his wife to see organs played by Bach and Mozart.

"He got to play those organs," Ms. Carroll said.

In 1979, the couple began hosting organists who traveled to Pittsburgh to perform, and over the years, 87 people stayed with them.

The couple had a piano and a pipe organ in their home.

Their travels around the world also included a number of river trips in Russia, Hungary and the Netherlands.

Mr. Young never taught in the summers, and, instead, he and his wife, and later two daughters, would travel to Utah, Arizona and other places to camp, backpack, mountain climb and drive their Jeep. His favorite place was the desert -- for its stark beauty.

"Most college professors don't go out in the middle of nowhere and see what happens," Ms. Young said. "He was always looking for the next mountain. The next challenge."

Ms. Carroll said the couple often would get in their Jeep, use a GPS and take readings of roads that weren't listed on any topographical maps. Then they'd go home and plot them.

"We were terrified going over the rocks in that Jeep, and he loved it," Ms. Young said.

The last trip Ms. Carroll and her husband took out West was in 2009.

In addition to his wife and youngest daughter, Mr. Young is survived by daughter Gretchen C. Fineman of Hampton and sister Barbara J. Cuff of Squirrel Hill.

A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date.

Donations may be made to the Hugh D. Young Graduate Student Teaching Award at Carnegie Mellon University, P.O. Box 371525, Pittsburgh, PA 15251-7525. Checks should be made payable to Carnegie Mellon University with the Hugh D. Young Graduate Student Teaching Award noted in the memo line.


Paula Reed Ward: or 412-263-2620.


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