ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County lost a pillar of its community with the death of Dr. John Wesley Langley on Aug. 10, 2017.
Langley will be best remembered for his service as a teacher, assistant principal and principal at Rockingham High School and later as principal of Rockingham Junior High. One can only image the countless lives that he touched during his tenure in the Richmond County educational arena. There are thousands of students, parents and colleagues who have been influenced by his belief and dedication to the idea that every child deserved the very best education possible. Langley firmly believed that his school should provide a setting assuring every student an opportunity to learn and be successful.
At Rockingham Junior High, the renowned Fine Arts program created precious memories that have remained with students through their adulthood. Former students are often overheard reliving Fine Arts as one of the best memories of their school careers. Dr. Langley envisioned a program to expose children to a possibly once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience. This elite creation had simple beginnings with three days of “home-grown” entertainment that Dr. Langley later mused could possibly have resulted in a lawsuit for calling it “Fine Arts.”
Over the years, this festival grew to become a three-stage program which included: three days of professional storytelling the week before Thanksgiving; a week of hands-on opportunities for students to work with professional craftspeople learning one or more crafts; and later, a third and final stage of performing arts, which brought a variety of entertainers to the RJH stage. Those appearing on this stage included such notables as Loonis McGlohon, Mabel Mercer and Doc Watson. This program brought much acclaim — not only to Rockingham Junior High, but to Richmond County and the state as Langley and the school received national recognition from The Kennedy Center, and its feature on “On the Road with Charles Kuralt.”
Langley’s high expectations of himself and his staff resulted in a school recognized for a quality cultural experience, as well as academic successes. With an understanding of how difficult and challenging his path to attaining an education truly was, the Rockingham Junior High family always strove to match and exceed his ambitions for all students. His famous quips live on in opening remarks to faculties by principals, in memories shared by fellow teachers, and even in central office conversations. To quote a fellow faculty member, “He made us who we are today.” The eagle soars!
As active members of Pee Dee United Methodist Church, he and Mrs. Langley touched many lives. Their loving care for those around them, especially their church family, was a testament to their strong faith. Countless acts of kindness were performed anonymously with no thought of recognition. From a life-changing experience at a young age, Langley attained the belief, “…I believe all creatures created by God are placed on this planet for a reason. I believe God tapped me for a mission that day and never let up.” This was the foundation for the continued evolution of his deep ideals and faith. The void created by their deaths will be difficult to fill.
While growing up, Dr. Langley’s daily advice to his three daughters was to embrace the knowledge and pride that, “I am what I am!” and to encourage them with the challenge that “…today, I will make it better!” A legacy that we all can embrace.