Capitol Hill wife who just won't sit still
Seen but not heard? Not Beverly Young. For wounded soldiers, she'll make such a fuss laws are changed.
By BILL ADAIR
Published December 19, 2005
BETHESDA, Md. - This is not how congressional wives are supposed to act.
They are not supposed to curse at Pentagon officials, write angry letters to President Bush or say that members of Congress take bribes.
But Beverly Young, the wife of Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores, doesn't play by those rules. Spend a day with her visiting wounded Marines at the National Naval Medical Center and you'll hear a few expletives. When she sees a photograph of a former hospital official, Beverly says: "See this b----? If she were here, I'd deck her."
But mostly what you hear from Beverly is compassion for the Marines who lie in the surgical ward, wincing from their injuries. Many have had arms or legs amputated. She holds their hands and tells each of them, "We love you, Marine."
She asks one if he needs chewing tobacco or whiskey. She slips $200 to the fiancee of another.
She spends several days a week at the hospital, often bringing pizzas or DVDs. When the Marines have no family, Beverly spends hours in their rooms like a surrogate mother. One Marine says that when he was overmedicated with painkillers, she saved his life by cursing in his ear like a drill instructor.
Laws have been changed thanks to Beverly. She prodded her husband to create a nationwide registry for bone marrow donors. When she discovered the military charged wounded soldiers for hospital meals, she raised such a fuss Congress repealed the law.
Says Marine Brig. Gen. John Kelly: "She can be a royal pain in the a-- - but only to people who don't care about the troops."
* * *
On a cold December morning, the Youngs arrive at the Bethesda naval hospital. Three staffers from Bill's congressional office carry boxes of CD players and music CDs for the injured Marines. People injured in battle often can't stop the sounds of war in their heads. Music helps.
As the Youngs stop in each room, Beverly goes bedside and holds a hand or rubs a shoulder. She never lets go.
She and Bill talk with a Marine whose leg was amputated at his knee because of a grenade blast. He is groggy from painkillers.
They are ready to offer him a CD player when his mother says the band Fleetwood Mac has given iPods loaded with rock music to everyone in the ward. But Beverly has noticed a photo of the Marine wearing a cowboy hat. "Do you need any country music?" she asks.
He does. She summons the aide with the CDs. "We need some country."
She flips through the assortment. "Lonestar? Brooks & Dunn? Kenny Chesney?"
"I like Brooks & Dunn," he says. She hands over a CD player, a Brooks & Dunn CD and a couple of others.
They chat about his family and his Western roots. Beverly wonders if a little chewing tobacco would help him recuperate. "Do you need some dip?"
He shakes his head no.
"You need some whiskey?"
"I love whiskey," he says.
They talk about his injuries and his wish to get home for Christmas. She ends the visit by telling him, "We love you, Marine."
* * *
The Youngs' generosity comes in hundreds of gestures, big and small. When wounded soldiers or Marines leave the hospital, Bill and Beverly take them out for a steak dinner. On Christmas, the Youngs deliver turkeys to Marines in Quantico, Va., and then take gifts to the patients in the Army and Navy hospitals. "We just try to make them know they are loved," Beverly says.
The Youngs do not seek publicity for their work. (It took several requests before they would allow the St. Petersburg Times to accompany them for this story.)
But Beverly is not shy about seeking donations. She got her gynecologist to pay for the CD players and music. She got the country band Alabama and many others to donate money to a paralyzed sailor.
She makes her rounds at military and veterans hospitals in Bethesda, Washington and the Tampa Bay area. Bill accompanies her when his schedule permits. They spend hundreds of dollars from their own pockets on pizzas, clothes, movies. Beverly has been known to bring pitchers of margaritas or a bottle of Jack Daniel's.
She insists they call her Beverly. "You call me "ma'am,"' she says, "and I'm going to whup your a--."
* * *
Beverly, 50, grew up in an Italian family in Seminole, the youngest of five. She married a Pinellas sheriff's deputy shortly after high school and they moved to Colorado, where she became a volunteer firefighter and medic.
They divorced and she returned to Pinellas County and went to work as a secretary in Bill's congressional office. Bill divorced his first wife and married Beverly in 1985. They have two sons, Billy, 21, and Patrick, 18, and Robbie, 29, from her first marriage.
Bill is 75, 25 years older, a difference that was difficult at first. "There were people taking bets on whether this marriage would last - and I was one of them," she says. "A couple of times I wanted to run. But we had kids."
Their marriage grew stronger as they put the boys first. She stayed home to take care of them, and Bill skipped nighttime political events so he could be home for dinner.
They have very different personalities. Beverly is fiery and blunt, Bill is gentle and diplomatic. Their marriage is proof that opposites attract. "He once told me that I was everything he was not allowed to be," she says.
Spend a day with them and you get the sense there is a good cop-bad cop strategy at work. He smiles and steps aside while she raises hell. But he supports everything she does.
He says Beverly introduced him to some important health care programs such as bone marrow transplants. He then created a federal bone marrow registry that has saved thousands of lives.
Both of the Youngs are devoted to the military. Beverly always respected men and women in uniform, but she became more passionate five years ago after helping a Marine who was shot in the back during training. Now, when she or Bill meet with the wounded, they always say, "Thank you for your sacrifice."
It is common for Capitol Hill spouses to adopt causes, but what's striking about the wife of Florida's most powerful House member is her style. She is not demure. She once attended a meeting of congressional wives but walked out after 20 minutes. She and Bill avoid the D.C. party circuit.
"She has never been the typical congressional wife," Bill says, with a knowing smile. He says he likes the fact that she is "very honest and open."
Beverly makes wisecracks about going through menopause, but looks five or 10 years younger than she is. She has a stylish haircut and gold hoop earrings, and - even when visiting the Capitol - wears jeans and a Marine Corps T-shirt that says "Nothing But Attitude."
"I could buy a dress for George Bush's Christmas party - or give $200 to (the fiancee of the wounded Marine). I'd rather give it to the girl."
Members of Congress usually live in pricey homes close to the Capitol or in nearby suburbs. But the Youngs live 30 miles away in Woodbridge, Va.
Beverly says it's all they can afford because her husband "doesn't take bribes like all the others."
* * *
Bill, who has clout with the military as chairman of the appropriations defense subcommittee, is a Republican who usually votes with his party. But his record is a little too conservative for Beverly's tastes, especially on abortion and gay rights.
"I think people should be able to be in love with whoever they want," she says. "I don't think men have a right to tell women what to do with their bodies."
Beverly supported the Iraq war but now has qualms. She has seen too many soldiers and Marines blown up by improvised explosive devices, the bombs used by insurgents.
"I'm all for (the troops) coming home because these IEDs are vicious," she says.
She is no fan of politicians, even though her husband is one.
"The world would be a much better place without partisanship," she says. But she is protective of Bill's reputation and says that when he retires, she might run for his seat if she doesn't like the candidates.
"I don't have a lot of political knowledge and I don't know much about the system. But I think I would be better than a lot of these people in state politics. I would do what's right for the people."
She is a Republican so she can vote for Bill in primary elections, but at least once she voted against him. In 1984, she voted for Democrat Robert Kent, a former wig salesman who changed his name from Ivan Korunek because he wanted a stronger name. He had little money and got trounced, but Beverly liked his honesty. She always prefers the underdog.
* * *
A few months ago, Beverly read that the Army was tightening its rules about when wounded soldiers could accept donations.
She was outraged. She feared the crackdown would discourage donors and intimidate soldiers.
She sat down at her computer and fired off a letter to President Bush. It began, "My name is Beverly Young, wife of Chairman Bill Young of Florida. In my 20 years in Washington I honestly believed there was nothing more that could shock me, but I was wrong."
A White House aide wrote back to say that the Pentagon would look into Beverly's complaints.
Her letter violated an unspoken rule for congressional wives, that they are to be seen and not heard. But Beverly didn't care. She was furious that an Army official would try to restrict donations.
"Why the hell did some idiot make that stupid comment and put it in the paper?" she told a reporter. "It has scared the wounded."
The Army insisted the rules were not discouraging anyone and that soldiers were still getting donations swiftly. But Beverly didn't believe it.
"F--- that!" she later said. "Print that: F--- that! These kids ought to be able to get anything they want from a grateful American."
Because of her complaints, Congress is changing the law.
* * *
Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Callihan was shot four times in the back in a training exercise. The bullets hit his spinal cord, leaving him partially paralyzed.
When he heard the Youngs wanted to see him, he expected the usual political visit: a handshake, a few snapshots and they would be gone.
But the Youngs came every day. When his condition deteriorated, Bill and Beverly acted as his family, meeting with doctors, discussing treatments.
Callihan was so heavily medicated, he was a zombie. He stopped eating and simply sat in his bed, staring into space. Bill and Beverly conferred with his doctors, who said his prognosis was not good. They wanted to transfer him to the psychiatric ward.
Beverly broke into tears. She left the meeting and went to Callihan's bedside.
"You know something, Marine?" she whispered in his ear. "You are a damn disgrace. If you were a real Marine, you would just pull out of this. I will get Gen. Jones (the head of the Marine Corps) down here and we will kick your a-- if you don't get better."
It was as if someone flipped a switch inside him. Callihan came to life and started talking to Beverly. He did not have to go to the psych ward.
When Callihan recovered, Rep. Young hired him for his congressional office. When he needed a place to stay, Bill and Beverly let him live at their home.
Callihan, who now works for a congressman in his home state of Idaho, says Beverly's tough love was the spark he needed.
"It got me fired up," he says. "She was instrumental in me surviving. If it hadn't been for her, I would have literally fallen through the cracks."
--Washington bureau chief Bill Adair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202 463-0575.