Yale University

In Memoriam

Colston Young

A memorial from Colston's older sister,
Betsy Y. Fenhagen

Colston Young
1941 - 1992

"O I see flashing that this America is only you and me,
Its power, weapons, testimony are you and me,
Its crimes, lies, thefts, defections, are you and me."

- Walt Whitman, 1865

Colston Young
1964 graduation

Colston never forgot that he and his clients and, indeed, all of us are made from the same clay.

A summer in the late 60's, when he worked for a black lawyer in a small town in Mississippi, was the beginning of a career dedicated to helping others ― as a public defender. In his work, as in his private life, he was unfailingly honest and compassionate.

In a profession where it would be easy to assume the burden of oppression, Colston always kept his sense of humor. As an openly gay man since the 1970's, he must have known the sting of discrimination but he never lost his sense of pride. He had a marvelous style and he exuded confidence. As a judge once remarked, Colston's presence in court was so impressive that he was able to impart that dignity and sense of worth to his clients.

The year he died, one of the millions of victims of the AIDS plague, he was named California Defender of the Year by the California Public Defenders Association. One of his colleagues, visiting him the day before he died, told him, "You make me proud to be a public defender."

In his letter of retirement, he wrote, "I consider it a privilege to have served with the Public Defenders' office for 19 years. The work is important. We constantly struggle to uphold individual liberties that are ever more seriously threatened in an increasingly hostile climate. My admiration for my colleagues who continue to fight this good fight is unbounded."

Colston is sorely missed by his family and friends.