When Will Willimon paid his respects this week to the family of Thomas Langford, the former Duke provost and Divinity School dean who died on Sunday, Langford's widow, Ann Marie, showed Willimon a roll book that her husband had used when teaching religion in 1962.
Inside the book, next to his students' names, Langford had written down the prayers that he had recited for the students.
"Every morning, he would get up and pray for each student at the beginning of the day," said Willimon, the dean of Duke Chapel. "He was the embodiment of Duke's motto Eruditio et Religio learning and religion and I would add to that humaneness."
At 3 p.m. today (Friday), friends, colleagues and many others will gather at Duke Chapel for a memorial service for Langford, who at age 70 died from heart failure at his Durham home Sunday morning.
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 called Langford "a wonderful colleague, adviser 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, adviser 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."
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 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; and the Center for Teaching and Learning was formed to assist faculty and graduate student teachers with teaching skills.
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 at the Fuqua School of Business. "He felt that the reason why we were here was for scholarship, teaching and research. ... 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."
It is Langford's guidance and decency that many people will remember most about him.
"One of his last public events was when he appeared before the United Methodist bishops to plead for more light and understanding on the issue of homosexuality in the church," Willimon recalled this week. "He delivered a wonderful address, even though he was ill at the time, and one of the things he did was plead with both sides to get off the high moral ground and talk to each other and try to listen to each other, to seek compromise and understanding on this complex issue. I just thought that was so typically Tom. He delighted in being the mediator."
"Thomas Langford was one of Duke University's greatest leaders," added H. Keith H. Brodie, Duke's president emeritus. "We shall miss his wise counsel which has guided so many over the years."
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. "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 Committee. He helped develop 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.
"Tom Langford was our conscience at The Duke Endowment," said Mary D.B.T. Semans, chair of the foundation's board. "He reminded us constantly of Mr. Duke's mission and, as chairman of the Rural Church Committee, his compassionate feeling for the beneficiaries' needs helped us to reach out to new programs touching more people."
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, in 1968, 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 in the winter of 1997, 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. Following today's memorial service, the family will receive visitors in the Divinity School's Alumni Memorial Common Room (Room 115).