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Jim Young, who worked his way up the ranks at Union Pacific Corp. to become the Class I's leader, then took the railroad's financial and operational performance to "unparalleled heights," died Saturday after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61.Young took the reins as UP's president and chief executive officer in November 2005, and became chairman in January 2007. He stepped down as president and CEO in March 2012 to take a medical leave from the company, but continued to serve as chairman. Young had just retired from UP on Jan. 31 and assumed the role of non-executive chairman.During his tenure as top executive, he helped convince UP's board to invest billions of dollars to boost infrastructure capacity, acquire rolling stock, and add and enhance other resources. Young also promoted a customer-centric approach that focused more sharply on shippers' needs and expectations. His efforts helped generate record-setting revenue levels and customer satisfaction ratings, and drive down UP's operating ratio to all-time-low marks.In addition to his professional duties, Young served as a Presbyterian Church elder and coached youth football, basketball and baseball in Nebraska. A graduate of the University of Nebraska Omaha, Young and his wife, Shirley, also established the Jim and Shirley Young Scholarship Program to help low-income students. The Youngs, who both graduated from Omaha South High School, led a community fundraising effort to install a new artificial turf field at the school’s Collin Field in 2009, marking the first time the school could host varsity football games since 1946.“Jim was an icon at Union Pacific and in the railroad industry, a colleague and great friend. [His] vision and leadership took Union Pacific to unparalleled heights and his civic contributions made positive impacts on many communities across Nebraska and the entire Union Pacific system," said Jack Koraleski, who succeeded Young as president and CEO. “Most importantly, he was a dedicated and loving husband, father and grandfather. He will be greatly missed.”Adds Steve Rogel, UP's lead director: "Jim’s commitment to Union Pacific’s mission and values, his tireless energy and infectious enthusiasm helped make Union Pacific an industry leader and made a lasting impression on everyone he met.”A lifelong Omaha, Neb., resident and the oldest of six children, Young began his railroad career with UP in 1978 in an entry-level position and later held a variety of management positions, including vice president of customer service planning and quality, senior VP and corporate treasurer, and chief financial officer.He was a board member and past chairman for the Association of American Railroads (AAR), Joslyn Art Museum and Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Young also served on the boards of Ferrocarril Mexicano S.A de C.V., the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Knights of Aksarben Foundation, Heritage Services and Creighton University.AAR officials expressed sadness about Young's passing."He was a champion railroader whose vision and commitment to the rail industry will be everlasting," they said in a prepared statement.Progressive Railroading recognized Young's contributions to both UP and the rail industry in 2012, when he received the magazine's Railroad Innovator of the Year Award. For more details about Young's background, railroading career and accomplishments, and the reasons he earned the award, follow this link to read an article that was published in the October 2012 issue.In addition to his wife, Young is survived by three children and two grandchildren. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to pancreatic research in care of Dr. Jean Grem at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, or the charity of their choice.Since Saturday, a number of federal, state and local officials released messages of condolence. Among them:“Jim was not only a tremendous leader at Union Pacific, but he was also a great leader in his community. His devotion to his work and his commitment to his hometown and state are remarkable and inspiring. He will truly be missed. Shirley and the entire Young family are in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.” — U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.)“The passing of Jim Young is a tremendous loss not just for Union Pacific, which he ably led for so many years, but for the entire state of Nebraska. A lifelong Omahan, Jim's leadership extended beyond the boardroom and impacted his community for the better. Bruce and I send our condolences and prayers to Shirley and the Young family." — U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)“Jim Young's accomplishments were quintessentially American. [His] leadership transcended the boardroom and into the Omaha community he called home. His civic engagement extended to education, health care and his church. Omaha is a better place because of Jim's willingness to make a difference.” — U.S. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.)“Jim Young was a good friend, a great American and an outstanding business leader. — Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman“[He] had a great story — growing up in South Omaha, attending the University of Nebraska Omaha with the support of his wife, Shirley, and succeeding through hard work and determination. And he did it all with unmatched integrity.” — J.B. Milliken, president of the University of Nebraska