Dennison Young, Inseparable Aide to Giuliani, Dies at 78
Dennison Young Jr., a discreet, unflappable lawyer whose life became intertwined with that of his polar opposite, the volatile former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, as Mr. Giuliani’s top aide and confidant for decades, died on Feb. 13 at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 78.
The cause was cancer, his son, Nicholas, said.
Mr. Young and Mr. Giuliani struck up a friendship in the early 1970s, when they were both prosecutors in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York — Mr. Young in the civil division and Mr. Giuliani in the criminal division — and they plowed through life together.
Mr. Young served as Mr. Giuliani’s right-hand man through Mr. Giuliani’s two terms as mayor, starting with his election in 1993. And he was in on the ground floor when Mr. Giuliani formed Giuliani Partners, a highly lucrative security consulting business, in 2002.
The two men also shared several life-defining events: They went through divorces and dealt with prostate cancer around the same time, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And on Sept. 11, 2001, they were having morning coffee together when the mayor received word that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. Mr. Young remained by his side throughout the daylong chaos, including for a period when they were caught in a building in Lower Manhattan after a second plane had struck the second tower.
“We were trapped for half an hour, and the governor thought we were dead,” Mr. Giuliani said in a phone interview last week. “Denny was like a rock. He showed no fear.”
Mr. Young was always the calm one throughout their years together, he said, which made for an odd-couple study in contrasts.
Mr. Young, an intensely private man, was deliberate, measured, thoughtful and worked behind the scenes, compared with the former mayor, a voluble, often impulsive and operatic public figure. “He was very careful,” Mr. Giuliani said. “I tend to be quick; Denny would put the brakes on when it was needed.”
This sometimes included managing the mayor’s temper. “If Rudy sees something in the papers that pisses him off, Denny tries to calm him down,” Dan Collins, co-author with Wayne Barrett of “Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11” (2006), said in a 2008 article in Gentleman’s Quarterly. “That was Denny’s job — to keep Rudy on the straight and narrow as far as excesses of his temper and angry phone calls to reporters.”
Mr. Young also knew how to keep a secret. Mr. Giuliani, who is known to leave few thoughts unshared, said in the interview that he had trusted Mr. Young’s judgment and discretion so much that during his ill-fated 2008 campaign for president, he planned to name Mr. Young director of the C.I.A.
But for all their closeness, Mr. Giuliani said, Mr. Young, for health reasons, had disengaged several years ago from Mr. Giuliani’s political and business activities. This included his legal representation of former President Donald J. Trump. In that capacity, Mr. Giuliani had helped lead the effort to overturn the 2020 election of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as president based on false claims of voter fraud — claims that led to the temporary suspension of Mr. Giuliani’s law license. Mr. Giuliani is now caught up in a legal storm involving investigations into the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
“Denny had no involvement in the Trump representation,” Mr. Giuliani said. “He wasn’t involved in any of it.”
Mr. Young’s son, Nicholas, said in an interview that when his father’s health began to decline a decade ago, “Dad reduced his workload at Giuliani Partners, eventually fully retiring from his day-to-day advisory activities.”
Still, he said, “Rudy remained one of Dad’s closest friends to the end.” Through the early lockdown days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Giuliani occasionally shared his home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with Mr. Young, who lived by himself on the Upper West Side.
Dennison Young Jr. was born on Aug. 1, 1943, in Tallahassee, Fla., where his father was a doctor in the wartime Army. After World War II, Dr. Young moved the family to Hartsdale, N.Y., in Westchester County, while he worked as a pediatric cardiologist at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, where he helped adapt the heart pacemaker for use in children.
Denny’s mother, Ora (Grill) Young, served on a local school board and helped found a day care center.
Denny, the oldest of three children, studied psychology at Tufts University, graduating in 1965, and earned his law degree from St. John’s University in 1968.
He began his legal career as legislative counsel to Senator Jacob K. Javits, a New York Republican. While working in Mr. Javits’s Washington office, he met Louisa Parker, the Senator’s administrative assistant; they were married in 1973.
Returning to New York in 1972, Mr. Young became an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District. As chief of the civil rights unit, he helped establish case law that provided protections against discrimination based on race, gender and age. He later became an associate U.S. attorney.
When Mr. Giuliani was named U.S. attorney in 1983, Mr. Young became his top aide. And when Mr. Giuliani left to run for mayor in 1989, Mr. Young followed. After Mr. Giuliani lost to David N. Dinkins, Mr. Young went with him into private practice, first at the law firm of White & Case, and later at Anderson, Kill, Olick & Oshinsky.
The two were so inseparable, The New York Times reported at the time, that in negotiations with both firms, they insisted on being hired as a team.
After Mr. Giuliani’s successful run for mayor in 1993 (defeating Mr. Dinkins), he named Mr. Young as his chief counsel, a key cabinet-level advisory position with a broad portfolio. In one of his few comments recorded by the news media, Mr. Young said at the time that the job “gives me an opportunity to have some involvement in just about every important thing that will happen in the new administration.”
Mr. Young, who himself had been grateful for the guidance of a mentor who steered him to law school, devoted time to mentoring interns and young people in City Hall. He was also active in the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, serving as a trustee for the Northeast region for 18 years.
His companion for many years was Katherine N. Lapp, who served as executive director and chief executive of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
In addition to his son, Mr. Young is survived by his daughter, Emily; two grandchildren, and his sister, Amy Geiger.