Former Provost and Divinity School Dean Thomas Langford Dies
From the Duke News Service
February 13, 2000
Thomas A. Langford, a former provost of Duke University and dean of the Duke Divinity School, died of heart failure at his Durham home on Sunday. He was 70.
As an administrator, Langford led Duke through an important period of change. He guided the Divinity School through a time of growth, and as provost, he helped the university respond to a series of tight budgets caused in part by declining government support, escalating capital and technology costs and an increasing need for financial aid.
As a scholar, Langford received attention for his books and articles on British theology and philosophical theology.
Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane on Sunday said Langford was "a wonderful colleague, advisor and friend. He was truly one of the wisest and most thoughtful people I've ever known. He was much beloved by many generations of Duke students and he will be greatly missed."
Keohane became Duke president while Langford was provost, and she said he was a "most amazing mentor, advisor and guide. I relied enormously on his judgment, what we should focus on as we set our priorities. I was very fortunate that he was in the provost's office when I got to Duke. At that point, he was my closest colleague."
Langford's tenure at Duke touched nearly every aspect of the university community. He received his B.D. from Duke Divinity School in 1954 and his Ph.D. from Duke as well in 1958. He joined the faculty in 1956, teaching in both the department of religion, where he served as chair, and in the Divinity School. From 1971-1981, he served as Divinity School dean.
In 1984, he became vice provost for academic affairs under Provost Phillip Griffiths. When Griffiths took a sabbatical for most of 1990, Langford stepped in as interim provost. He assumed the position full time when Griffiths became director of the Institute for Advanced Study in 1991.
During Langford's tenure as provost, the university passed a number of milestones: Duke began to map out plans for an improved planning process; the university-wide budget formula continued to be revised to enhance budget planning; a new initiative involved the entire campus in recruiting black faculty and students to campus; the Center for Teaching and Learning was formed to assist faculty and graduate student teachers with teaching skills; and Keohane became Duke's eighth president. He stepped down as provost in 1994 to return to the classroom.
While the time of tight budgets started under Griffiths, it was during Langford's term as provost that the university most seriously faced decisions related to limited resources. Richard Burton, the former chair of Duke's Academic Council, once said he thought Langford had a knack for identifying the core programs of the university.
"His intention [when faced with conflicting budget pressures] was always to ask what was right for the university," said Burton, a professor in Duke's Fuqua School of Business. "He felt that the reason why we were here was for scholarship, teaching and research. He never lost that; you might say he kept his 'eyes on the prize.' When dealing with limited resources, this is important. He was always guided by his internal compass of what was the university's mission."
As a teacher, Langford was a winner of one of the first teaching awards presented by the Duke student government. When Langford retired as a Divinity School professor in 1997, Divinity Dean L. Gregory Jones said, "Tom Langford has had an extraordinary career and unparalleled influence as a teacher, scholar and administrator. He has made enormously significant contributions to the United Methodist Church, to theological education and to Duke University. Tom embodies a rare contribution: a keen and searching intellect, astute judgment, faithful service, exemplary character, and a gracious spirit. A master teacher, he has influenced generations of students at Duke."
Langford served on many university committees on issues as varied as student life, black studies and Duke Press. After retiring in 1997, he served as William Kellon Quick professor emeritus of theology and Methodist studies and continued writing on Methodist theology. He also was active in the local community and in the church. An ordained United Methodist minister, Langford loved the church, Jones said on Sunday. "He played a key role helping United Methodism maintain theological continuity with its origins," Jones said.
He also served on the Board of Trustees of The Duke Endowment, the Charlotte-based philanthropic organization, and chaired the board's Rural Church Division. He exercised leadership in developing new ways in which that foundation's resources could be used to enhance churches, universities, health-care institutions, children's homes and communities throughout North and South Carolina.
Langford delivered the eulogy in April 1998 at the funeral service for his longtime friend, Terry Sanford. The two men met in 1960 when Sanford was successfully running for governor, and they went on to develop a friendship that lasted more than a quarter century. The friendship between Sanford and Langford began as a working relationship in 1968 when Langford served on the search committee that recommended Sanford to Duke's Board of Trustees, leading to his installation as the university's sixth president.
Shortly after Sanford was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he himself asked Langford to give the eulogy.
"I think Terry asked me to give the eulogy because he saw himself as a churchman, as someone active in the life of the church," Langford said prior to Sanford's funeral. "He was indeed very active in the church, and I am honored to speak in his memory."
In presenting Langford in 1998 with the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service for decades of service to Duke, Keohane said, "Here is a man whose intellectual depth and range have invigorated the field of philosophical theology, whose religious faith has expressed itself in service to the church and the community, whose caring disposition has made him a revered colleague and a valued mentor, whose steadfastness has impressed those who have observed his administrative adeptness, and whose loyalty over more than 40 years has helped to shape this university."
Langford's "lasting influence can be found in the many scholars and students whose lives he has touched," Keohane added in her 1998 presentation. "[Divinity Dean Jones] says he hears account after account, from alumni across the generations, of how the class taught by [Langford] was their favorite at Duke. 'His power as a teacher and a preacher is embodied in his own gracious spirit. He is consistently attentive to others and their concerns, offering reflections in ways designed to make others — and in his administrative service, Duke University — better.'"
Langford is survived by his wife, Ann Marie Daniel Langford, their four sons and their families. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, at Duke Chapel.