Co-founder of Illman Young dies at the age of 89

Obituary: Yvonne Young

The former business partner of previous LI President Sue Illman died earlier this month. Sue Illman writes: 

Born in Lions River, Natal, South Africa, where her father was the government administrator and J.P. for Zululand. Yvonne had a carefree rural upbringing until secondary school, when the family settled in Escourt, Natal.  She excelled in botany and drawing; and had aspirations to be a botanist but settled on architecture. 

At 16 she began her degree at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Among her peers was Theo Crosby (Pentagram, London) who became a lifelong friend.  After graduation she settled in Durban and began her architectural career.  In 1950 she had a brief sojourn in London where she worked for the architects’ department at  the LCC on the Festival of Britain. In 1952 Yvonne returned to Durban and married John Young in 1954. Following the birth of two children they decided to emigrate in 1959, finally settling in London in 1960.

In 1963 she began working for RMJM on the masterplan for the University of York campus, where her interest in landscape was ignited, setting up an ambition to study landscape architecture.  This took many years to be realised, as she moved from London to Hertfordshire, working for the County Council designing and building schools and police stations.

Finally, having waited until her youngest daughter finished studying at university, Yvonne took early retirement from the County Council, and enrolled as an undergraduate student at the Gloucester College of Art and Design to study landscape architecture.  Readily accepted by the younger students, she relished the challenge of the course, but found the academic administration irksome after her professional working life in architecture. 

Successfully completing both the BA and Graduate Diploma, Yvonne embarked on a new career, working briefly for Mary Mitchell in Birmingham, before joining Dyer Associates in Cheltenham, where she mixed landscape and architecture.  Moving to the CEGB and working in association with Peter Youngman PPILA on a number of projects, she finally took on the role of a full-time landscape architect.

Yvonne could be a surprisingly intrepid individual both in her personal and business life, travelling to Peru in the early 1990s and on the Orient Express from Samarkand to Tashkent some years later. In business, few would agree to join a fledgling landscape practice at the age of 62, but she did so in 1987, forming Illman Young Landscape Design with me.  This was both a successful partnership and a friendship that flourished irrespective of the difference in ages.

Retirement held little appeal for Yvonne, but she was encouraged to wind down a little in her early 70s by taking the Historic Landscape Conservation course at the Architectural Association, and gaining a further post-grad diploma; an interesting challenge for a modernist architect to undertake. However, this stood her in good stead in her role as a member of the Cheltenham Architecture Panel, and a Committee member of the Gloucestershire Gardens and Landscape Trust.

Yvonne will be fondly remembered by friends and colleagues alike for her gentle sense of humour, elegance, immaculate dress, quiet air of authority and her sometimes unexpected ability to speak her mind.

Born Yvonne Merle Kirby, 1 August 1925 in Brezii Brae, Lions River, Natal, married John D Young, June 1954, divorced 1972, died Cheltenham 8 January 2015, leaving two daughters, Elspeth and Fiona and four grandchildren.

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