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M. Norvel Young; Led Move of Pepperdine to Malibu

Obituaries

February 19, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

M. Norvel Young, chancellor emeritus and the president of Pepperdine University who propelled the school from Southwest Los Angeles to its vast Malibu campus and helped multiply its enrollment tenfold, has died. He was 82.

Young died Tuesday night at his home on the Malibu campus after suffering a heart attack while walking on a treadmill. He had recently suffered a stroke.

"It has always seemed . . . that Norvel Young was the heart of the institution. He had truly become thought of as our 'Mr. Pepperdine,' " said Pepperdine President David Davenport. "It was really his vision that transformed Pepperdine from a small liberal arts college to a larger university with multiple schools and campuses around the world."

Young, president of the school from 1957 until 1971 and then chancellor until his retirement in 1984, was instrumental in raising money, recruiting faculty and students, and creating the new campus he liked to describe as "smog-free, sun-kissed, ocean-washed, island-girded and mountain-guarded."

Under his tutelage, the Christian-oriented private school moved from its 34-acre site at 79th Street and Vermont Avenue to the 830-acre campus opened in Malibu in 1972. Enrollment mushroomed from 950 students in 1957 to 9,500 today. Young opened new schools of business, law, graduate studies and studies abroad.

An evangelist with a talent for business, Young set out from the beginning to win large donations for the independent college. He got them: stock in the Hydrix company, which made oil drill bits, from Frank and Blanche Seaver; land for the nucleus of the new Malibu campus from Merritt H. Adamson and other owners of Rancho Malibu; $25 million from George Graziadio of Imperial Bank for the George L. Graziadio School of Business and Management.

"I made a $25-million donation because of Norvel Young," Graziadio said Wednesday from Palm Springs. "He was a real fine human being. He was a guy who set an example for a lot of people."

Young's example included giving $2 million of his own money in 1996 to Pepperdine's Center for Family Life. In 1991, the university established a chair in his name in the family life department.

Graziadio said Young worked to benefit the university until hours before his death, calling about a pending dinner for Pepperdine Associates, a financial support group Young organized that now has 1,800 members.

A former pastor of the Churches of Christ, which frown on drinking, Young succumbed to alcoholism in the mid-1970s. He took a temporary leave of absence as chancellor after pleading guilty to vehicular manslaughter.

The charge stemmed from a midday accident Sept. 16, 1975, on Pacific Coast Highway that killed two women after Young's car rear-ended their car, causing it to burst into flames. His blood-alcohol level was 0.23, nearly three times today's legal standard for drunkenness.

His probationary sentence, controversial because it included no jail time, required him to participate in a USC research project on drinking and automobile accidents and to give speeches about the findings.

Young painfully but willingly admitted consuming a quart of vodka shortly before the accident--and asked forgiveness of the Pepperdine student body, Church of Christ leaders in Tennessee and Texas, and local civic groups such as the Bell Gardens Rotary Club.

He attributed his drinking to stress caused by financial problems at Pepperdine, a then-pending campus visit by President Gerald Ford, the death of a faculty friend, and criticism from church "extremists." Young said he had been a teetotaler until age 54, when he developed heart problems and a doctor suggested a daily drink to relax.

"I thank God for the opportunity of being alive and of doing something to help prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future," Young said during a speech in 1976.

He also discussed the episode in the most recent of his five books, "Living Lights, Shining Stars--Ten Secrets to Becoming the Light of the World."

Born in Nashville, Tenn., Young attended David Lipscomb College there and Abilene Christian University in Texas. He later studied at USC and George Peabody College and taught history at Pepperdine from 1938 to 1941 before earning graduate degrees at Vanderbilt University.

Young entered the ministry when he taught at David Lipscomb College and served as pastor of the college church. He later went to the Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock, Texas, now the nation's largest Church of Christ congregation.

There he founded and edited two denominational magazines, 20th Century Christian and Power for Today.

He is survived by his wife, Helen; a son, Matthew Norvel III; three daughters, Emily, Marilyn and Sara, and 10 grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday in Firestone Fieldhouse on the Pepperdine campus.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the M. Norvel Young Scholarship at Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, Calif. 90263.

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