On May 12, 2018, Gary Young, founder of Young Living Essential Oils, passed away due to complications from a series of strokes. Donald Gary Young was born July 11, 1949 in Idaho Falls, Idaho, to Donald Norman Young and Dolly Adrienne Parsons.
The Young family were among the most noted of early American pioneers.They were descended from Dr. Joseph Young, who served in the French and Indian Wars as a surgeon. Joseph married Elizabeth Hayden Treadway, a widow, and had six children, including John Hayden Young, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. John married Abigail “Nabby” Howe, of the Puritan family of Howes, and in 1801, they moved to the remote hills of Vermont, near the small town of Whittingham in Windham County, and in 1807 to Smyrna, New York. Nabby was the mother of eleven children, including Brigham Young, and his younger brother Lorenzo, third great-grandfather of Gary Young.
Lorenzo was the youngest of eleven children born to John Hayden Young and Abigail “Nabby” Howe Young, while Brigham was the ninth child. Lorenzo Young was asked by his brother Brigham to join him as part of the vanguard company on the first expedition of the Mormons to Utah, in 1847.
The pioneer story of the Young family is an incredible one, filled with hardship and adventure. With some understanding of this history, it is not so surprising that Gary Young was born with the same pioneering spirit as his ancestors. He possessed a mind with a unique ability to visualize what he wanted or needed to achieve, and the determination to carry it out.
Gary’s growing up years were spent in Challis, Idaho, in a 30 x 30 cabin his father built 12 miles from town, with no electricity or running water. He lived with his parents and 5 siblings, accustomed to a life of hard work on the range.
Their home was on the edge of what is now the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Here the rugged, indomitable mountains rise sharply above the deep canyons with rushing, whitewater rivers. The Salmon River Canyon, deeper even than the famous Grand Canyon, commands spectacular views of a diverse ecological landscape, defined by some of the oldest minerals visible anywhere on earth. Cirque basins with high alpine lakes, chiseled gorges, wooded ridges, exposed granite bluffs and solitary turrets of the Bighorn Crags paint a landscape with shades of pale silver, green and blue.
In 1967, Gary spent his summer working for the US Forest Service. He rode his horse over 2500 miles through the Idaho wilderness, clearing trails, patrolling for forest fires, and packing supplies to the fire lookouts and guard stations. Saving his money, he packed up his belongings that fall and drove to Canada, where he filed for one of the last parcels through the homestead act. Here he began building his horse and cattle ranch on 320 acres, 30 miles in the wilderness, and logging in the wintertime. His endeavor prospered for the first few years until a severe logging accident in 1973 changed the course of his life forever. Gary had three open skull fractures, and his spinal cord was ruptured in three places where it was classed as an incomplete break. In addition there were 16 broken or crushed vertebrae, and 11 ruptured discs. His pelvis was also broke, the brachial plexus severed and the right scapula was broken into 9 pieces. Altogether there were 19 broken bones including all his ribs on the right side and several on the left. Initially Gary was not even given a room in the hospital but left in the hall as the doctors felt certain he could not survive this terrible trauma. He did not die but was confined to a wheelchair, told he would never walk again, and lost in a world of mind-numbing painkillers and anti-depressants. Gradually he lost everything, and unable even to commit suicide he determined to fast himself to death by subsisting only on water and lemon juice.
After 253 days of this he unexpectedly began to feel movement in his right toe. As his doctors could not offer much help or hope, Gary decided to stop all his medications and began to explore alternative methods for natural healing and pain relief. Gradually he regained mobility, and managed to again make a living logging by driving a truck fitted with a hand clutch and brakes. Over 13 years, Gary recovered enough to walk again, but was in constant pain. He moved to Southern California and continued his education by enrolling in a Naturopathic College. Although it was not accredited, it was the only school at the time offering courses about the topics he wanted to learn, and all of his completed coursework was reviewed by a medical doctor. He built a small research center in Rosarita Beach, Baja California, Mexico, and finally, through a client, he was introduced to essential oils and invited to attend a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, where medical doctors were presenting their research. The conference was a 40-hour course on essential oils taught by Dr. Jean Claude Lapraz, M.D., and Dr. Paul Duraffourd, M.D. Following the conference, Gary traveled to Paris to spend another week studying with Dr. Lapraz, and brought home one liter each of thirteen different oils.
From that moment, Gary was hooked. With his background in farming, it was natural for him to want to learn to grow the plants himself. He brought the first seeds back from France in 1985, and in 1989, moved to Spokane, Washington. The next year he began planting on a little quarter acre plot there, and began his first distillation experiment on the kitchen stove by welding two pressure cookers together. He sent his first sample of lavender to Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt for testing in 1991. Dr. Schnaubelt was so amazed by the fine quality of the oil, that Gary was excited and encouraged to move forward. He wanted to learn every aspect of producing essential oils, from growing, harvesting, distilling, and testing, and made many, many trips to France, and to Europe, learning from the masters.
Gary became acquainted with Jean-Noël Landel, and through him met Marcel Espieu, who was then president of the Lavender Grower’s Association and had been for 27 years, and Henri Viaud, who lived at the time in the mountains of Provence, France, and was widely known as “the father of distillation”. Growing and distilling lavender had been the main trade of Marcel’s family for eight generationa, but his sons were not interested in pursuing it. He taught Gary all he knew. Mr. Viaud, 82 years old at the time, also accepted Gary as his final student. Gary made several trips, spending many months in all, on Mr. Viaud’s mountain learning the art of distillation, and it was Mr. Viaud who taught Gary to develop his “nose”. Gary continued to learn from Marcel Espieu and Henri Viaud for the rest of their lives.
Gary was very much a hands on person, he wanted to learn by doing, not just from acquiring degrees, or studying by himself from books. He sought out the best and most knowledgeable teachers around the world, determined to learn everything he could about growing and producing the best quality essential oils from the ground up. He traveled to Egypt to study with Dr. Radwan Faraq, and studied chemistry and GC/MS testing at Albert Vielle Laboratory in Vallauris, France. He went on to study GC/MS testing and equipement with Dr. Dr. Hervé Casabianca, who was the leading essential oil and plant molecular analytical chemist in the world. Dr Casabianca also had helped write the French AFNOR standards (Association Française de Normalisation, meaning French Standardization Association).
In 1992, Gary purchased his first farm, 160 acres in St. Maries, Idaho, and leased a farm in Provence, France in partnership with Jean-Noël. The St. Maries farm was later expanded to 200 acres. In 1993, Gary moved his business to Utah, where he met his wife Mary. They were married the next year, and Young Living was formally incorporated as the number of members grew steadily. Two sons were born to Mary, Jacob and Josef, now teenagers, who share their dad’s love of essential oils and are eager to carry his dream forward. Gary continued to expand his operations, designing larger and more efficient distillers and better farm equipment. Around the same time, Gary became acquainted with Dr. Songqiao Chao, dean of the Science Department at Beijing Technical University. Dr. Chao was visiting one of Mary’s neighbors, Dr. Cyrus McKell, dean of the Botany Department at Weber State University, and Dr. Chao was a guest lecturer there. Dr. McKell thought Dr. Chao would be interested in essential oils and brought him to meet Gary. Through this meeting, Gary learned about Dr. Chao’s research on the Lycium barbarum wolfberry species growing on the Elbow Plateau in Inner Mongolia, in the NingXia Province of China. Gary was fascinated and became the first to import tons of the NingXia wolfberries for commercial use. He formulated the popular NingXia red superjuice, the NingXia Nitro energy supplement, and also used the wolfberries in many other products.
The Whispering Springs Farm at Mona, Utah, was added 1995, which became the headquarters and showplace of Young Living. Gary worked tirelessly, experimenting with each different crop to determine the optimal growing and harvest conditions, and best parameters for distilling in order to obtain the maximum quality and highest yield at the highest quality levels. Gary traveled to the Anadolu University in Eskisehir, Turkey to study with the noted professer, Dr. K. Hüsnü Can Başer (known as Dr Hans Baser) to complete 120 more hours of intense GC analysis. No one worked harder or longer than Gary, and his requirements were stringent, as he was never willing to sacrifice even the minutest amount of quality in order to have more product to sell.
As the company grew, he demanded the same strict requirements of all Young Living partners and suppliers. In 2000, Gary purchased a lavender farm in Simiane La Rotonde, which eliminated the need for leasing the farm in Provence.
The same year, he discovered an overgrown Christmas tree farm in Naples, Idaho, near the Canadian border, which became the Highland Flats farm, now famous for the distillation of Idaho Balsam Fir, Idaho Blue Spruce, and other conifer oils. In 2006, more than 2300 acres were added to develop the Finca Botanica farm in Guayaquil, Ecuador, along with the Nova Vita Spa and Rejuvenation Center. A school was built for the local children, which became the Young Living Academy, opening its doors in 2007. The Young Living Academy celebrated its first graduating class in 2016. Nearly 300 students have attended this school to date. At Finca Botanica, many oils are distilled including Ylang Ylang, Palo Santo, Mastrante, Lemongrass, Eucalyptus Blue, Dorado Azul, Ocotea, Plectranthus Oregano, Rosa Muerta, Cardamom, Geranium, Hyssop, Ishpingo, Rosemary, Ruta, Thyme, and Vetiver. Chocolate is also produced from the Sasha cocoa trees.
Gary and his partner Jean-Noël joined with Benoit Cassan, president of the French Lavender Growers Association, and Jean-Marie Blanc in 2011 to merge their farms with the Simiane La Rontonde in southern France, which is now the largest true lavender farm in the world. In addition to Lavender, the farm also grows Clary Sage, Lavandin, Rosemary, and Einkorn, the ancient grain.
As the Young Living farms continued to expand, so did the need for larger distilleries and more sophisticated laboratories and testing equipment. Under Gary’s guidance, Young Living has developed the most complete and advanced laboratories in both North and South America for identifying and analyzing plant compounds. This includes the only GC/FID/MS combined instrument in the world (gas chromatography, flame ionization detector, and mass spectrometer). The GC in Ecuador was first equiped with dual FID and a two-capillary column system – one 60m polar stationary phase ad one 50m no-polar stationary phase. These were connected to a splitter at the inlet of the GC, evenly dividing the essential oil sample between the two columns. This enabled nearly every component in almost all essential oils to be separated and identified using the extensive retention index library Young Living has compiled. The MS was then connected to this system with a 60m non-polar capillary column, making it the only instrument in the world with three capillary columns running to one MS and two FID detectors. The Agilent MS was also boosted with a 500,000 component spectral reference library.
Partnering with Dr. Mahmoud Suhail, a medical doctor who is the scientific advisor at the Dhofar Research Plant, pediatrician at Al Afivah Specialized Medical Complex, and chief Scientist for the AYUB S42 Research Project at the Sultanate of Oman, Young Living was granted permission in 2010 to build the first large commercial distillery for the extraction of Sacred Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) in modern times.
The Highland Flats distillery was expanded in 2014 and new equipment added including three 21,000 -liter and one 6500-liter extraction chambers. Gary proudly demonstrated the new system to members who attended a special ribbon cutting ceremony. It was an emotional moment as he recalled the many obstacles which had to be overcome along the way towards achieving the new system, which was and still is, the largest fully automated distillery for essential oils in the world. Later that year, Young Living was able to purchase land in British Columbia and established the Northern Lights Farm near Fort Nelson to distill Black Spruce, Ledum, Yarrow, and White Spruce. In Europe, the Dalmatia Aromatic Farm was added in Split, Croatia for distilling Helichrysum, Sage, Juniper, and Bay Laurel.
Gary has also established many partner farms which include the Kona Reforestation Project on the Big Island of Hawai, for the production of Royal Hawaiian Sandalwood; the Balkan Botanical Farm in Manolovo, Bulgaria, for Roman Chamomile, Rose, and Valerian; the Taiwan Cooperative Farm in Taitung Taiwan for Jade Lemon, Hong Kuai, Xiang Mao, and Camphor Wood; the Maydi Frankincense Distillery in Dubai, UAE, for Frankincense; the Perth Sandalwood Farm in Perth, Australia, for Sacred Sandalwood; the Outback Botanical Reserve in Darwin, Australia, for Blue Cypress; and the Amanzi Amahle Farm in Johannesburg, South Africa, for Tea Tree, Eucalyptus Radiata, Lemon, and Orange. The most recent partnership established was in March 2018 with the Labbeemint Partner Distillery in White Swan, Washington, for the production of Pacific Northwest sourced peppermint oil. Labbeemint has been a family run operation since the 1940s.
As with all Young Living partners, Gary insisted on diligently searching for only the most meticulous operations able to meet Young Living’s stringent standards for Young Living Therapeutic Grade™, a term Gary coined in 1991. This term was originally intended simply to convey the promise that Young Living would ensure its oils would not only be pure, but would contain optimal ranges of the components needed to provide therapeutic benefit. For example, Gary explained, “Peppermint oil should contain between 38 and 47 percent menthol to be therapeutic. If the summer is wet and rainy, menthol will be approximately 24 percent but will still be pure. It is just not therapeutic.”
As more and more companies began to compete in the essential oil market during the last fifteen years or so, virtually all of them, despite wide ranges in quality, claim to be “pure” and “therapeutic grade”. Consequently, the term was assumed by many to simply be a marketing phrase and of no value as there is no grading system nor independent authority which grades and determines the quality of essential oils. However, this was never what Gary meant. The entire phrase was Young Living Therapeutic Grade™, and was intended to denote that the oils bearing this mark met Young Living’s own internal standards for the range and balance of therapeutic constituents necessary to make such a claim. These levels were determined by collecting extensive research, and often, in the case of newly discovered oils, conducting additional research.
Most recently added to Young Living’s own farms, the Skyrider Wilderness Ranch in Tabiona, Utah, was carefully chosen by Gary as a site for retreats, as well as a place where he could perform research on new botanicals and distillation. Gary was also in the process of moving the majority of Young Living’s Einkorn grain production to this farm. Altogether, as a result of Gary’s tireless energy, Young Living has more than 16 global and and partner farms around the world, international offices in more than a dozen countries, over 3000 employees, and well over 4 million members worldwide. The company has continued to grow and has achieved more than $1 billion in annual sales for the past three consecutive years, winning many awards.
Gary always loved horses, and Young Living breeds and maintains a string of champion Percherons which are shown regularly. Many of these are also used for work at both the Mona farm and for horse logging at Highland Flats. Gary used other horses as well including Bandido, the dancing Friesian stallion, and several others which he regularly rode on his many trips to the mountains. He also used the horses in his wild west shows for visitors, and for jousting, one of his favorite sports.
Gary also dreamed for many years of someday competing in a dogsled race. This goal was realized in 2017 when he competed in two races in Alaska, finishing both and mushing over 500 miles for days in temperatures of -30° across the frozen Alaska wilderness.
Gary’s adventures in traveling around the world are too numerous to recount, but all of this is well documented and many thousands of members have accompanied him on these journeys and can attest from personal knowledge of the mentors and experts Gary studied with and the places he has been.
It was not always easy. Not everyone understood Gary, especially not his competitors. At the time Gary started, interest in aromatherapy was just beginning to be revived by Robert Tisserand’s popular book, The Art of Aromatherapy. The early history of essential oil use in America had long been forgotten. Once common for both medicinal use and home remedies, a number of essential oils, plants and seeds were brought to America by early settlers. Other medicinal uses of local plants were learned from Native Americans. Many essential oils were readily available at drugstores and regularly used by the general public for both topical and internal applications.
Even the federal government for years had farms and distilleries for producing essential oils to study their medicinal benefits. However, with the establishment of the FDA in 1906, and the growing demands of the flavor and fragrance industries, the market for personal use of pure essential oils was largely forgotten, and synthetic or restructured oils were generally more profitable. Many early aromatherapists inspired by Tisserand’s book wanted to feel their services and products were unique. They resented this farm boy from Idaho who made claims about traveling the world, and studying with experts and growing and distilling his own oils to make them available for the general public. They resented his insistence on quality standards and testing, which many of them could not afford.
Some groups even devoted remarkable amounts of time, energy and discussion to shutting down Young Living. Efforts were made by a few to spread information that would damage the reputation of Young Living, or Gary himself and put a stop to his teaching. Led by some of the same original individuals, a few such groups persist. These attacks were hurtful to Gary, but he never allowed them to deter his vision, which was never anything more than wanting to help people and to learn and understand how to use the benefits of essential oils for wellness. Gary was never driven by gaining profit, he simply wanted to learn and to share the excitement of what he learned with others. The Multi-level Marketing business model was chosen simply as a way to share the oils with more people, and to help people develop lasting friendships and relationships in the pursuit of their wellness goals. In fact, Young Living was never a real threat to small aromatherapy businesses as it fills a completely different niche, and there is plenty of room for both. What it did do was raise interest and awareness of essential oils for all essential oil companies in general, as well as helping raise awareness of the need for purity and quality.
Young Living grew and prospered because of Gary’s tireless energy and unfailing demand for quality. Everyone who stayed around him for any length of time was inspired to do the same. Rather than sitting back to enjoy his profits, Gary poured them right back into the company, building more farms, distilleries, laboratories, and insisting on the latest and most technologically advanced testing equipment. Many times he brought Dr. Hervé Casabianca over to calibrate his GC/MS equipment and to train his scientists in using these instruments and learning to accurately interpret the results.
Another side of Gary was his unfailing kindness and extreme generosity. Two major earthquakes with numerous aftershocks devastated Nepal during 2015, resulting in more than 9000 fatalities and the loss of nearly a million homes. Many businesses and companies and individuals reached out to help – but on visiting Nepal in 2016, Gary was appalled to find the extent of damage that still existed, and the horrible impacts to families and children in a country desperately struggling to recover. Seeing this, Gary was not satisfied to simply offer donations. He had to help. He personally went to Nepal on many trips, spending literally months of his own time, brought them a brick-making machine, and taught them how to use it. Each trip he brought more Young Living members to help. To date, 112 homes and 2 schools have been rebuilt in Yarsa, Nepal.
Gary’s Alaskan dogsled races last year were not just for fun, but his efforts and endurance in the bitter freezing temperatures were to help raise more money for Nepal, and he succeeded in raising $40,000 more to help build 8 more homes. Through the 9-year-old Young Living Foundation, Gary also helped with many more causes, including raising more than $250,000 for people affected by natural disasters. Two clinics in Jinja, Uganda, were built, treating more than 400 people a week, through Young Living Foundation Partner Sole Hope. Altogether, through many partners and projects, Gary’s guidance as Chairman of the Board of the Young Living Foundation led to providing more than $6 million in aid to those in need.
Gary will be greatly missed, by his family, friends, and Young Living members everywhere, but he has left a truly remarkable legacy that will continue for years to come.
*Historic Young Family photos courtesy Family Search