D. Gary Young, who passed away on May 12, 2018, was the amalgam of a life spent overcoming tremendous adversity—poverty, disabling injury, ridicule and a harsh upbringing fostered in him an unstoppable desire to help others in need.
Through Young Living, the company that he and wife, Mary, founded in 1994, Gary Young built a direct selling legacy, earning him the prestigious inaugural Bravo Legacy Award at the Direct Selling News Global 100. In honor of Gary, we would like to pay tribute to his memory through his own words and those closest to him. In addition to how he personally touched so many lives, his extraordinary professional contributions to the direct selling community will be felt for generations to come.
Early Life and Abject Poverty
As a boy, Gary called a 20-foot-by- 30-foot mountain cabin in Challis, Idaho home. With no running water or electricity, the family—Gary, his parents and five siblings—eked out an existence determined by what they could grow and hunt. Life was harsh.
“As I looked at the poverty in which I lived, I knew in my heart that I never wanted to live like my parents and was determined to have something better,” Gary said. He dreamed about creating and forging a future out of the wilderness and the mountains that he loved.
“My father taught me the value of hard work and how to be creative in solving problems and achieving what had to be done. This gave me the physical and mental strength that equaled whatever challenge came my way,” Gary said.
And his challenges were great. In his early 20s, a logging accident left Gary near death with 19 broken bones, three skull fractures and multiple herniations of the spinal cord. He languished in a coma for three months. Upon waking, doctors said he would not walk again.
Distraught, Gary attempted suicide twice. “He didn’t want to live without his horses. He didn’t want to live without his mountains,” Mary Young said. An attempt to starve himself ironically prevented scar tissue from forming and nerves rerouted. Sensation returned to Gary’s toes and he defied the medical prognosis. Gary rose to walk again.
“We consider ourselves the Young Living family and when members from around the world work together on a specific service project, at winter harvest, or spring planting, there is a bond created that uplifts and warms the heart and brings a joy that fills the soul.”
—D. Gary Young, Founder, Young Living Essential Oils
“Whatever path I walked, God was my partner and foundation for the decisions I made. After my terrible accident at age 24, I promised God that if he gave me back my legs, I would spend the rest of my life serving his children,” Gary said.
Unfortunately, challenges followed Gary throughout his life, in the form of injury and illness. On January 25, he faced yet another when he suffered a stroke that rendered his left side useless.
“Gary was a man who loved God and believed the mountains were God’s living room, where Gary went to communicate and find peace,” Mary said. “He loved his home and his family, and his greatest joy was in being of service to his fellow man, helping people reach their highest potential, have a greater understanding and compassion for one another, and achieve mutual respect and honor, even with our many cultural and ethnic differences.”
Laying the Young Living Foundation
A self-described “gunfighter” who lived by instinct, fast decisions and emotion, Gary Young never hesitated in life or business. The three 33s guided him: 33 percent intuition, 33 percent calculation and experience, and 33 percent gut feeling.
In the 1980s, Gary was immersed in alternative medicine, and then became fascinated with essential oils. He studied essential oil distillation methods in the early 1990s and became enamored with the potential power of natural ingredients. When a distillation teacher in France advised him to grow the necessary plants himself, Gary jumped at the idea of getting his hands dirty and planted his new 60 acres in Idaho with lavender, peppermint and tansy.
By 1994, newly married Gary and Mary Young, who sang with the Utah Opera, wanted to share essential oils with the wider world and for the first time used network marketing to do it. They renovated a run-down Riverton, Utah building as their headquarters and called the fledgling company, Young Living.
“He loved his home and his family, and his greatest joy was in being of service to his fellow man, helping people reach their highest potential, have a greater understanding and compassion for one another, and achieve mutual respect and honor, even with our many cultural and ethnic differences.”
—Mary Young, Co-Founder and CEO, Young Living Essential Oils
Gary’s all-encompassing, driving energy infused Young Living. He plowed fields with his tractor, designed and built farm and distillery equipment, formulated in the laboratory, and taught seminars. His dedication, energy, enthusiasm and capacity for hard work, Young Living President and COO Jared Turner said, “Put people half his age to shame.”
“The only way Gary knew how to lead was from the front and the rest of us did our best to keep up! When you have a vision as singular as his was, paired with the determination and drive to accomplish it, you see unbelievable things happen. You see Young Living happen,” Turner said.
For 25 years, Mary watched this man take on every day as if it were his last. “He was passionate, quick-witted, emotional and brought excitement and creativity with his empathetic, loving and kind nature that was very contagious,” she said.
Gary put his unique zest for life on full display for Young Living’s Members by riding a zip line into an annual convention, mushing a dog sled team across the Alaskan wilderness, and taking up medieval jousting for sport. “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space,” Gary says. “Think of your goal, feel the passion come up inside you and forget about all the stuff on the side trying to convince you that you can’t do it. Yes, you can do it.”
“The only way Gary knew how to lead was from the front and the rest of us did our best to keep up! When you have a vision as singular as his was, paired with the determination and drive to accomplish it, you see unbelievable things happen. You see Young Living happen.”
—Jared Turner, President and COO, Young Living Essential Oils
Growing the World Over
“You’re only as good as that which you can give to someone else,” Gary said. Young Living and the network marketing industry allowed Gary to fulfill his own dreams in grand, visionary ways and make good on his promise to God to help others.
Keeping that promise started at the source of essential oils themselves. Gary traveled the world to learn all he could about growing and distillation, journeys that became far-reaching opportunities for good.
When Young Living established farms in places like Chongon, Ecuador, where Gary lived for a time tending lavender, he cultivated crops and formed strong, equally beneficial bonds with local farmers and villagers. He looked deep into the holistic needs of the community and set about meeting them.
“I was able to provide jobs for people who had never had a job, provide education for children who would never have an opportunity, and see poverty turn into real success with longevity for countless people,” Gary said. “It was very exciting for me to see ways that I could teach people how to help themselves through honest, productive work that produced oils for my company. It was a win-win for everyone.”
Turner said, “I think one of the biggest differentiators is that he led with his heart. That’s not to say that Gary wasn’t brilliant, insightful, and incredibly well informed. I can testify that he was! What I mean is that he prioritized the human benefits of his products and the company above any financial considerations.”
“I believe that when God blesses you financially, it is your responsibility to help God’s children who are less fortunate, not only with money but with giving of your time to help in other physical ways when possible,” Gary said. He formalized this belief with The Young Living Foundation in 2008.
Chongon’s children were first on Gary’s list. He acquired land for a new school, The Young Living Academy, and built it in 2009. Partially funded through $75/month student sponsorships, the academy serves the educational needs of 300, K-12 students and has changed the trajectory of these students’ futures.
“He was passionate, quick-witted, emotional and brought excitement and creativity with his empathetic, loving and kind nature that was very contagious.”
The Foundation supports the communities where Young Living sources essential oils. Projects have taken them to Uganda with Sole Hope to scrub and remove small parasites causing dangerous and even deadly foot infections. They’ve also made shoes for villagers as a proactive measure. They partnered with Healing Faith Uganda to purchase mosquito nets, organize service trips and help test for malaria. Elsewhere in Africa, they doubled the efforts of African Hearts, a transitional home for abandoned children offering shelter, food, social services and quality education, purchased land and built an additional school for 200 children, ages 3-5.
Perhaps most memorable was Gary’s 2016 trip Nepal, nine months after devastating earthquakes and aftershocks left 1.2 million homeless. Standing among ruins in Yarsa distributing blankets, Gary looked upon the flimsy tents, lean-tos and tin sheds and knew they were no match for the coming winter. People—little children—were dying of exposure. Why had help not arrived?
Working with permission of Nepal’s Vice President, Gary sliced bureaucratic red tape and set about saving lives. His problem-solving mind saw a simple, South African brick-making machine used on Young Living’s Ecuadorian farm as a solution. Dirt mixed with small amounts of cement made bricks. Bricks could save lives in Nepal.
The Young Living Foundation ordered a complete, automated block factory, hired an engineer, architect and project manager and sent them for training. They taught the Nepalese to rebuild devastated villages, and then to manufacture and sell construction blocks, which created long-term economic value.
Gary mobilized Young Living’s Members for muscle and funding and counted rebuilding Yarsa’s homes and school a favorite memory. “Hundreds of our Members gave freely of their time and money to travel such long distances, to sleep in tents, and to work along with these people who lost everything and desperately needed help,” he said.
“We consider ourselves the Young Living family and when members from around the world work together on a specific service project, at winter harvest, or spring planting, there is a bond created that uplifts and warms the heart and brings a joy that fills the soul,” Gary said.
Sales under $800 a day didn’t meet the bills, but vision and an “inner knowing” drove Gary in Young Living’s early days. He made grand predictions and Mary would chuckle. “But as the years went on, I came to understand that no matter what he said he was going to accomplish, he always accomplished it,” she said.
“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”
—D. Gary Young
Before the paint was even dry on their first headquarters, Gary drew up plans for their next. He was confident Young Living would someday live up to his dreams, confident it would outpace a laundry list of direct selling giants. Mary laughed again and asked how he could be so sure. “I just know,” Gary responded.
Perhaps only Gary could see the company’s future success because only he knew for certain how to harness his maverick style, his ability to out-work everyone from dawn until long after the sun went down, and his drive to help others. Gary saw it clearly. Gary made it happen.
In 2014, Young Living’s explosive growth outpaced its infrastructure. They invested heavily across the board and slowed opening new markets. By 2015, Young Living achieved $1 billion in annual sales and repeated the next three years, placing it among the world’s largest direct selling companies. Revenue growth of 800 percent the past five years culminated in 2017 sales of $1.5 billion.
Today, the company reports 3,000 global employees working in 13 offices, representing 22 markets. It ship products to 133 countries. Young Living operates one of the most technologically advanced essential oil distilleries in North America, as well as 16 corporate and partner farms in the U.S., Ecuador, Canada, France, Oman and others. Since inception, they’ve welcomed some 4 million Members.
“Gary’s entire MO was to help people improve lives in every possible way. Every decision he made was for the benefit of his employees and Members around the world. Gary’s philosophy was infused into the daily operations of our company at every level, which I believe is a key part of the ‘YL Magic’ that sets us apart in this industry,” Turner said. “Each of us, from the executive level on down, has taken Gary’s beliefs to heart, which ensures that his legacy is secure and Young Living will never deviate from its core principles.”