On Saturday, I learned that former longtime Tempe Daily News photographer Jan Young, a unique woman and fixture in Tempe, had died in Belize where she had moved years ago to be with her daughter.  She was famous for the striking image she created beyond the great images that came through her camera.  A short woman, Jan traveled in a Volkwagen bug, always wore a Columbo-style raincoat and worked quickly at the scene of a news story.   On Sept.  14, 1993,  the Tribune published my “Tempe Commentary” column titled “Young busy with book, free-lancing.”

Her funeral was in Belize on Friday and her body put in a crypt above ground because the high water table forbids underground burials. Friends in Tempe hope to have a memorial service for Jan in April,  perhaps at Tempe History Museum where she had donated all her negatives.

Rather than rely on my memory of Jan, I am republishing part of my column about  Jan from nearly 17 years ago:

I’m often asked, “Where that photographer you used to have?  The short woman who always wore a raincoat and drove that VW?”

“Oh, Jan Young,”  I say.

“Yeah, she’s the one,” comes back  the response. “She worked so fast. She’d take one picture and was done.”

During a 13-year stretch in the 1960s and 1970s and for a time in the mid-1980s, Jan Young was a news photographer for what was then the Tempe Daily News. A fixture at fire and accident scenes, a regular at civic and social events, the ubiquitous Young was famous for doing eight or 10 assignments per day.

In her blue or gray raincoat, she made her rounds in a blue Volkswagen bug.  With a flip of her wrist, the photographer with the silver dome of hair cranked her outmoded Roleliflex camera, looked down into the lens at her subjects, pressed the button, took names and was gone.  Last fall, her family insisted the ’68 VW with 600,000 miles and a string of three engines had to go.  “Mother, it doesn’t have seat belts that work, and we demand that you either sell it, trade it in or plant it on the front lawn and get another car that is safe to drive,”  she was told.

Young traded it in for a Honda, then had a good cry.  “They sold it within an hour because I had kept it in such shape,” she said.  She determined “my trench coats became very ragged at the sleeves, and I thought it was only right that I should discard them and start wearing jackets.”  Her trademark  full-length coats, worn in all seasons, had deep pockets to swallow rolls of film and notebooks. They also  were her uniform to keep from getting dirty at the scene at 2  a.m. fires.

“The big question was, ‘What does Jan Young have under her trench coat?’ when I’d go out at 3 in the morning.  Of course,  I’d never let them know there wasn’t much under the trench coat,” she said.

Perhaps the first full-time female news photographer in Arizona, Young considers her best work photos of the late longtime U.S. Sen. Carl Hayden from Tempe.  “He liked me for some reason and wouldn’t let other photographers come to his home to take his portraits,” she said.  “I took the last ones before he passed away (in 1972). The most famous one is the one I shot shortly before he died,  sitting on the family sofa at Tempe Historical Museum.”

Young started a new chapter in her life in 1979, shortly after the death of Tempe Daily News publisher Francis Connolly. She moved to Santa Fe, N.M., to build a passive solar home “because they wouldn’t let me build it down here.  They wouldn’t let me use raw adobe. ”  She stayed four year, grew ever more homesick for Tempe and returned in 1983.  One of the photography projects of those years in New Mexico has borne fruit more  than a decade later.

Newly published is a book  “Marie, Mota and the Grandmother” by Sunstone Press of Santa Fe.  Some 101 black-and-white photos by Young illustrate the 160-page juvenile fiction novel, which is set in rural New Mexico at the turn of the century. Written by her friend, Stella Houghton Alico, a descendant of the Houghlin Mifflin Publishing Co. founders, the book was largely completed in 1982. Alico died that fall, and the text and photos were filed away.

Recently Alico’s daughter, Rosalia Turner, took the steps with Young, to publish the book. It’s the story of a 10-year-old girl, Maria, whose parents elect to send her to live nearby in the one-room “grandmother’s house” with the newly widowed grandmother.

….  Today Young keeps busy as a free-lance photographer especially for Tempe Magazine. Now living in Chandler, she said people still “search me out” for photo work. Though the Bug and the trench coats are gone, her Roleliflex still sees what Jan Young’s eyes see.

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