Ivory Lee Young loved his neighborhood, served Atlanta

Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr. speaks during a news conference in September 2013 on developments around what is now Mercedes-Benz Stadium. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr. speaks during a news conference in September 2013 on developments around what is now Mercedes-Benz Stadium. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Lee Young’s passion for his family occasionally spilled over into council chambers.

“He would serenade his wife, sing her happy birthday from the council floor, letting everybody know he loved her,” said city councilwoman and now Council President Felicia A. Moore. “He was always fun-loving and full of life.”

Ivory Lee Young Jr., four-term city councilman from west Atlanta, longtime architect, ordained minister and family man, died Friday from cancer, according to sources in city hall. He was 56.

Despite his illness, Young remained engaged in city affairs, with the help of technology, including the latest discussions on the city’s biggest development project, the Gulch.

His last personal post on his Facebook page Sept. 26 urged Atlantans to come out and hear about proposal to develop the Gulch.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms called a town hall meeting that day to discuss proposed plans to redevelop downtown’s Gulch into a $5 billion mini-city with office towers, apartments, hotels and retail space. Young wanted to be there.

The meeting wasn’t being televised. Young reached Moore by phone, just as she was leaving city hall for the town hall.

He asked how he might still be able to watch, and she told him where it was being live-streamed.

“I was thinking to myself, he’s still wanting to keep up with what’s going on,” the council president said.

On Friday, Bottoms, who had served with Young on the council, issued a statement of condolence to his family as she commended his service to Atlanta.

“His love of God, family, and community was evident in his word and deeds,” the mayor said. “I was privileged to call Ivory a colleague and friend and am eternally grateful for his love and devotion to our city.”

On city council, Young represented neighborhoods that have been in the throes of redevelopment, chiefly English Avenue and Vine City, where he lived with his wife, Shalise, children and grandchildren.

“He had a tough time trying to represent his area because they had different groups within the neighborhoods with different desires,” Moore said.

She said he was always trying to balance those interests. But she said, once he made up his mind, whether people liked it or not, “he was very good at sticking to it and seeing things through.”

Young knew the dynamics well. He had come up through the neighborhood planning unit process, often-times a political tightrope.

Young was first elected to city council in 2001. He won his fourth term in a landslide on Nov. 7, 2017, and, most recently, served on the council’s committees on city utilities and community/human services, as well as the Committee on Council.

In an interview in 2017, Young said he considered a highlight of his council tenure the efforts in 2002 to help 160 families displaced by a sewer flood. Homes were rebuilt at no additional costs to their owners and renters were assisted with first and last month’s rent to move anywhere they wanted, he said.

“I count that as a success,” he said.

Shirley Franklin, Atlanta’s mayor from 2002 to 2010, said she remembers Young as a true gentleman.

“We had numerous times when we were on opposite sides,” Franklin said. “But he was the kind you could debate and still have a warm relation with. I appreciated that.”

She said Young “cared an awful lot about the residents of his district,” but also knew that, sometimes, the neighborhood interests and business interests need to be balanced.

Moore’s memory is vivid of her conversation with Young on the day of the mayor’s town hall.

She remembers that he began the conversation by asking about her.

“I said: “The question is – how are you?” she recalled.

Young told her his strength wasn’t coming back as fast as he hoped, but otherwise, he was doing good.

Before their conversation, Moore said she told Young: “I love you.”

He responded back in kind.

“I’m at least glad I got to do that,” Moore said. “I’m sure he was fully anticipating getting back. He was always an optimist.”

Funeral arrangements are being made.