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Who was James Langley?

Last modified: 11/8/2013 12:11:18 AM
The proposed extension of the Langley Parkway from Concord Hospital over to the intersection of Penacook and North State streets has gotten the attention of residents across the city, not to mention the candidates in this week’s elections for mayor and city council. But who the heck was Langley? Whatever you think of the road project, his is the perfect name to be associated with it. In addition to being editor and publisher of the Monitor for a large stretch of the 20th century, James Langley was also the first president of Concord Hospital. He helped write the city’s first zoning ordinance and served 10 years on the city zoning board and another 10 on the city planning board.

Actually, Langley can speak for himself, even 45 years after his death. What follows is his self-written obituary, which appeared on the front page of the June 24, 1968, Monitor.

I died late yesterday afternoon.

It is not unusual for a newspaperman to write his own obituary in advance, but they usually do so anonymously. I prefer the more honest autobiography, even on so sad an occasion (for me).

I was the eldest child born to Frank E. Langley, printer son of Cyrus, a Wilmot farmer, and Mary B. (McLellan), printer daughter of Isaac, a Hingham, Mass., carpenter.

My birthday was Oct. 11, 1894, and the place was Hyde Park, Mass., where father had a small job shop and printed a tiny weekly newspaper. In 1897 father founded the Barre (Vt.) Daily Times, which he published until his death in 1938. He was president of the Monitor Patriot Co. while he lived.

My boyhood was in Vermont, where I attended public schools. . . . I entered Dartmouth in 1913, flunked out mid-term my sophomore year, returned the next fall, left to enter Plattsburgh when this country went to war, and finally graduated in 1917, wearing the two bars of a captain of infantry, the rank awarded me after three months in training camp. To justify its diploma, Dartmouth gave me scholastic credits for military service, offsetting credits it had denied me because I had taken excessive chapel cuts.

I fought the rest of the war at Fort Devens.

Within two months of the war’s end I went to work for the Manchester Union Leader as a reporter. In the next five years I successively worked on the afternoon copy desk, as night editor and as editor of the Sunday Union Leader, which was subsequently suspended.

On March 1, 1923, the Monitor Patriot Co. consolidated the Concord Daily Monitor and the daily New Hampshire Patriot, and I took charge as editor and manager. The purchase of the two papers was managed through personal loans arranged by my father and myself, plus funds advanced by John G. Winant, then a master at St. Paul’s School, in consideration for stock, which we purchased from him when he became governor.

After 38 years as publisher, I sold the Monitor to William Dwight, Holyoke, Mass., newspaper publisher, in 1961, but continued on as editor. . . .

Concord and New Hampshire were good to me. I arrived in the Capital City personally worth a little more than $700, and owing $5,000, which I borrowed from my father-in-law to acquire the first stock I owned in the Monitor. . . . From the beginning the Monitor showed some profit and over the years I finally got out of debt.

The community gave me a liberal education by asking me to participate in many civic affairs. My first extracurricular job was as tree warden. . . . I participated in organization of the Community Chest, was a member of its five-man board of governors and later its president. It was the first chest in New Hampshire.

I helped organize the Daniel Webster Council of Boy Scouts and later was chairman of the executive committee. I served on the three-man committee that wrote the original Concord zoning ordinance, another first in New Hampshire, and served as chairman of the board of adjustment for 10 years.

The more one does in volunteer service, the more one is asked to do. But being mindful that I was first and last a newspaperman, I followed self-imposed rules. I never sought a job. I was not a joiner. I never accepted even expense money for any city or state job I held. At all times, I kept myself in the position of being able to relinquish any civic task if it interfered with my primary obligations and responsibilities to the community as editor and publisher of its newspaper.

Zoning impressed me as merely an implement of planning. I got Gov. Winant to authorize a state planning WPA project and was chairman of the board. When the Legislature next met, the Planning and Development Commission was created and I became its chairman. . . . I then convinced the Concord Board of Alderman it should set up a city planning board and served as its chairman for 10 years.

The hazard of extracurricular activities is that one civic job reveals so many others that need doing. I took an innocent-appearing appointment as chairman of a committee to review some recommendations made by a fundraising firm to Memorial Hospital that led me down a long trail. I became president of the hospital. In time, this led logically to its consolidation with the Margaret Pillsbury Hospital to form Concord Hospital, whose first president I became. . . .

Along the way there were other hospital needs. I organized and was president of the New Hampshire-Vermont Hospitalization Service and urged and helped organize its affiliated Blue Shield twin-state group I was appointed chairman of a state hospital study commission and out of its research came the Hospital Survey and Construction Act and the law licensing hospitals and nursing homes. . . .

Named chairman of an interim unemployment relief committee during the Depression, I brought the first trained social workers in to the handling of relief cases. The committee’s work resulted in the creation of the modern state welfare department, with the state and federal governments participating in the cost of public relief for the first time. Also enacted was the state’s first minimum wage law and drafting of the unemployment compensation law. . . .

I served as chairman of the U.S. delegation in negotiation of an agreement on trade and other matters with the Philippines. This led to my appointment as ambassador to Pakistan. When a vacancy occurred in the American embassy in Manila, Filipinos whose President (Ramon) Magsaysay had presented me his country’s Legion of Honor award, agitated for my appointment as ambassador. At the same time, the State Department and the president were trying to find a post for Ambassador (Charles) Bohlen, a controversial career officer during the McCarthy era, who’d served in Moscow. They submitted his name to Karachi, which was not receptive. On the other hand, President Magsaysay felt that my name had been too associated with . . . one of the old guard of Filippino politics. . . . The result: Bohlen went to Manila and I to Karachi.

I lived in exciting times, when many things needed doing. After some hesitation during my first years as the community’s editor and publisher I became recipient of a faith and trust on the part of the people of Concord and of New Hampshire, which utilized what organizational talents I had to the great extent the times demanded. For the respect thus shown me, I was always grateful. I was convinced an editor could and should do more than merely criticize or advocate. If his advice to his community was as sound as he believed it to be, he had an obligation to prove it by his own actions. From doing he came to know more of what he was writing about.

There will be no funeral, memorial or burial services for me, at my request. The carcass which I animated will be cremated and the ashes thrown to the winds. As a newspaperman I have always been curious as to where my spirit would go but don’t especially regret my probable inability to write the greatest story ever told. After all, there’s little enough mystery left in life as it is, so I suspect that my discovery of the nature of the hereafter will be the first news story I ever suppressed, if I have a choice.


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