Mildred Younger, a Republican Party activist for three decades who helped guide the career of her husband, former state attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Evelle J. Younger, died Wednesday at her home in Pasadena after a long illness. She was 86.
Younger, a Los Angeles native who spent almost her entire life here, was the daughter of a lobbyist who taught her the political ropes. She became active in the Republican Party in the late 1940s and by 1952 was a rising star who seconded the presidential nomination of then-California Gov. Earl Warren at the first televised national political convention.
She ran for office herself in 1954, narrowly losing her bid to become the first woman in the state Senate. She subsequently was a successful radio and television host but was sidelined in 1958 when she lost her voice after a bout with polio and a car accident. She did not recover her voice for 17 years.
Described in a 1978 Times profile of Evelle as a “striking spitfire,” she continued to be politically active despite her handicap and became her husband’s closest political advisor.
“Evelle was a good politician, but she was better,” Charles G. Bakaly, a lawyer and longtime friend who managed campaigns for Younger’s husband, said this week.
Younger was a graduate of Los Angeles High School and a debate champion at USC, where she earned a degree in art history in 1942. Before she graduated from college, she spent a summer working for a fashion magazine in New York City, where she met her future husband, who was then an FBI agent. They were married July 3, 1942.
Their son, Eric, was born in 1943 in San Francisco, where they lived after Evelle Younger joined the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. He served in Asia during World War II.
After the war, he passed the California bar and worked as a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles and Pasadena.
At that time, Younger was the one with the political connections and ambition. Her father was close to Warren, who raised her profile by selecting her to give a speech seconding his nomination as his party’s presidential choice at the 1952 Republican National Convention in Chicago. Warren launched her husband’s judicial career with an appointment to the Municipal Court in 1953.
In 1954, she ran for a state Senate seat from Los Angeles County and won the Republican primary despite her opponent’s attempt to derail her candidacy by running a former mental patient named Hazel Younger against her. She lost the general election to Democrat Richard Richards by a slim margin.
More than two decades would pass before the Senate gained a female member: Rose Ann Vuich, a Democrat from Tulare County, who was elected in 1976.
Younger “was pretty far out in front for a woman” in the 1950s, recalled her son, a retired Superior Court judge, who was 11 when his mother was a candidate. “She would get hate mail from people saying, ‘Why aren’t you at home taking care of that nice little boy instead of taking jobs away from men?’ ”
She took the defeat hard, he said, and transferred her energies and ambitions to her husband’s career.
Evelle Younger became one of California’s most resilient law enforcement politicians. He was elected to the Superior Court in 1958, became Los Angeles County district attorney in 1964 and state attorney general in 1970. His only losing campaign was his 1978 bid to replace popular Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
After losing her state Senate race, Mildred Younger had a brief career in radio and television. In 1958, she hosted a program on KNXT-TV Channel 2, the local CBS affiliate, called “Morning Report,” which was aimed at women and aired six days a week at 8 a.m. Times critic Cecil Smith praised Younger for displaying “an easy, candid manner, a fluid vocabulary and a gentle sincerity.”
Her broadcast career was short-lived, however. After suffering whiplash in a minor car accident in 1958, she found she could not raise her voice above a hoarse whisper.
Doctors considered the condition, known as spastic dysphonia, a psychosomatic disorder.
“I didn’t think it was,” she said in an interview with The Times, “but I was the last one anyone was going to believe.”
In 1975, a surgeon in San Francisco who was an authority on paralysis of the larynx operated on the nerves controlling her vocal cords after trying other experimental treatments over eight months. Younger quickly regained the full use of her voice. A week after the operation, she was using the telephone to pull pranks on friends and relatives who hadn’t heard her normal voice in almost two decades.
Although her speech problems had limited her activities, she continued to work for KNXT as an editorial writer. She also was a consultant to Richard M. Nixon during his 1962 gubernatorial race and served on the state Senate Reapportionment Steering Committee. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she was appointed by then-Mayor Sam Yorty to a number of posts, including the Los Angeles City Library Commission and the Community Redevelopment Agency.
Her husband died in 1989 at the age of 70. Besides her son, she leaves two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
Funeral arrangements are pending. The family suggests memorial donations to the Angels West support group of USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1441 Eastlake Ave., Room 8302, Los Angeles 90033; or the American Heart Assn.