Shirley Young ’55 passed away on Dec. 26, 2020. She lived life with infectious exuberance and purpose, leaving behind extraordinary milestones, as well as the gratitude and affection of all who knew her. Shirley took on life with gusto and breathed a joie de vivre into all she touched: her family, her career, and all the wondrous projects she hatched with friends over delicious Chinese dinners at her home.
Her family encompassed more than just her beloved three sons—David, William, and Douglas, and their children—but the generations of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of her mother, Juliana, the matriarch of the family who lived to 111. Shirley regularly gathered the family together for weddings, vacations, and every year for Juliana’s birthday, including nieces Stephanie Hsieh ’89 and Elena Zee ’91. Shirley could masterfully organize anything—from family outings, to new divisions in her companies, to concerts at home and abroad, all while exciting others to help.
As a child, Shirley, her two sisters, Genevieve Young ’52 and Francis Young Tang, and her mother traveled widely with their diplomat father. Even at Wellesley, she felt the lure of overseas, as she wrote about “International Trade in June and the Partition of India” in her senior year at Wellesley, winning the Mayling Soong Foundation Essay Prize. She was among the very early consumer marketers to see the potential of the China market, tapping into that opportunity as a young vice president at General Motors in the late 1980s.
It was not only business that led Shirley to Asia, but also her love of music, and the joy of bringing Western music to China and helping Chinese musicians to succeed in the U.S. She had a keen eye and empathy for talent, identifying extraordinary ability in young musicians like Yo-Yo Ma and Lang Lang, and supporting them in their early years. Shirley leaves a rich legacy of collaborative music ventures between the U.S. and China that will continue to thrive.
Shirley was a proud alumna and volunteered for class reunion and capital campaign committees as early as the 1960s. From 1987 to 1998, she served as a valued Wellesley trustee and was further recognized for her contributions when she was awarded the Alumnae Achievement Award in 1986. She endowed a fund at Wellesley in honor of her mother, as well as naming the student organization room at the campus center for her. She joined Wellesley’s Business Leadership Council in 1996, and through that and the Albright Institute, directed her attention to Wellesley’s global initiatives. After she helped launch Wellesley’s Women World Partners at its inaugural gathering at Peking University in 2013, she remarked with pride: “Wellesley continues to improve in every way in developing young women for future leadership … and international experiences.”
Recently, Shirley spoke at the Business Leadership Council annual dinner. Even among the many accomplished alumnae gathered that night, it was clear that Shirley stood out as a role model. It was touching to see how flushed and happy she was to be among her sisters, and proud to have paved the way for generations of women. We will greatly miss Shirley, but she does not leave a vacuum, rather, places filled with the young people whom she inspired and supported. They will carry on her work and her passions, filling the world with music and the bold, breakthrough ideas that were Shirley’s gift to us all.