When James V. Young stepped down in 1980 after nine years in Mayor Kevin White’s administration, a fellow City Hall official used a metaphor to describe what Mr. Young had been doing — first as treasurer, then as deputy mayor.
“For four or five years,” the official told the Globe, “Jim has been pulling rabbits out of hats.”
By far the largest of the rabbits was keeping Boston’s government from following in the financial footsteps of other large cities in the mid-1970s, when New York City narrowly averted bankruptcy.
“He could have done anything in the private sector. Instead, he was doing this work and saving the city,” said Paul Grogan, chief executive of The Boston Foundation who at the time was also in White’s administration. “He was the architect of the city’s recovery. The mayor relied on him totally. The consensus is that if Jim had not been there, we probably would have ended up in a New York situation.”
Mr. Young, who after City Hall went on to become the chief financial officer of the real estate firm Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, died April 16 of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 76 and had lived in Charlestown.
Well-known for having taken only three weeks of vacation during his nine years at City Hall, Mr. Young worked six or seven days a week. Those long hours paid off when he convinced bankers in the mid-1970s that city government would pay back the loans that were needed to stay solvent.
Accomplishing that, he told reporters, “was like having your tire blow out at 50 miles an hour and having to fix it without being able to stop.”
There was no slowing down, either. “I had taken the job when times were easier,” he added. “I couldn’t let the city come apart over a debt issue.”
During the mid-1970s, “the city was in deep trouble financially,” said Grogan, a longtime friend of Mr. Young. “We were hemorrhaging people and jobs to the suburbs.”
After Mr. Young played a key role in preventing fiscal collapse, he lobbied White to initiate the first independent audit of city finances, according to a career overview the Globe published in May 1980, when Mr. Young stepped down as deputy mayor.
Doing so fulfilled a promise Mr. Young made to bankers during the financial crisis. He considered the audit a major accomplishment of his City Hall career, one that helped restore city government’s credibility in the banking community.
The mayor “was known for hiring great people, really smart people,” Grogan recalled, and “Jim accounted for a very large share” of White’s reputation for bringing intellectual prowess into City Hall.
“A lot of us around him benefited from his ‘financial miracles,’ ” Grogan added. “Jim elevated all of us.”
Mr. Young’s accomplishments didn’t go unnoticed. When he left City Hall, White said in a statement that his work had been “nothing short of superb.”
It also was not much short of around-the-clock. “It’s unhealthy, the extent to which I’m wrapped up in this place,” Mr. Young told the Globe in 1980.
With an eye on the private sector, he ended up at Cabot, Cabot & Forbes and subsequently was a consultant. “I’m leaving with great regret,” he said of City Hall, “but with no misgivings.”
The older of two brothers, James Vernon Young was born in Clifton Springs, N.Y., and graduated from Newark High School in nearby Newark, N.Y. His father, George Young, was a firefighter. His mother, the former Emily Worden, was a nurse.
Years later, while speaking with the Globe about his childhood, Mr. Young said that having been raised as a small-town Presbyterian, he placed a premium on perseverance and hard work.
In 1963, Mr. Young received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard College, and he graduated two years later from Harvard Business School. To pay tuition, he supplemented scholarships with a variety of jobs, including selling magazines and working in a sheet metal factory and asphalt plant.
Upon graduating with a master’s in business administration, he worked for a few years as a consultant and an entrepreneur and also for businesses in Greater Boston, before he joined White’s administration.
As a special assistant to the mayor in the early months of 1972, Mr. Young helped run a recruiting project to attract accomplished professionals to City Hall.
Soon he was part of White’s Cabinet as the city’s collector-treasurer, a job that unexpectedly became very high-profile during the fiscal crisis.
He was working 12 to 14 hours a day when his daughter was born, “yet it seems like I had to fit it into my schedule like another business appointment,” he said, frowning, during a December 1976 Globe interview. “Sometimes this job gets to me.”
He didn’t lose his sense of humor, however. When his $30,000 salary was mentioned, he smiled and quipped: “That makes me the 143rd highest paid employee in the city.”
After the fiscal crisis, Mr. Young was promoted from collector-treasurer to deputy mayor with oversight for city government’s financial affairs, though for a while he did both jobs, until a new treasurer was appointed.
When the promotion became official in May 1977, the Globe reported that Mr. Young was “considered the city’s most powerful official after White.”
In 1965, Mr. Young married Judith Houghton, an educator and writer. They had a daughter, Jocelyn, who now lives in Lebanon, Maine. Their marriage ended in divorce.
Mr. Young married Karen Linsley, an attorney, in 1999. They had met at the Harvard Club of Boston, where both were squash players, and where he was a board member and official. Mr. Young had been a nationally ranked squash player and a state doubles champion, and he competed in the sport into his 60s.
Indeed, he and Linsley spent their honeymoon in Toronto, where Mr. Young was playing in a tournament. “The concession I exacted was that we stayed at the Four Seasons rather than the squash players’ usual Days Inn,” she recalled.
A service has been held for Mr. Young, who in addition to his wife, daughter, and former wife leaves his brother, George, of Novelty, Ohio.
From college onward, “Jim was in love with the city,” Grogan said.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Young was on the Boston Public Library’s Board of Trustees. He also helped found the Friends of Post Office Square, which he served as a board member and leader.
He and his wife sailed extensively along New England’s coast in their 47-foot boat, and each winter they chartered a sailboat in the Caribbean. Though both loved sailing, she noted that Mr. Young was always the captain and navigator. “He was a lot of fun,” she said.
Mr. Young, who had navigated city government out of a fiscal mess, was always keen to show his extended family members how to read charts and maps so they’d know new-fashioned and old-fashioned ways to get around.
“He loved teaching kids how to run the radar, the GPS, and how to do navigation without the iPhone, using a sextant,” Linsley said. “He loved teaching kids how to run the boat.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.