Never Quit: Sheer will took Jack Langford from the gridiron to the bench
John Sholar (Jack) Langford, former Fulton County Superior Court judge, Southeastern Conference football official, Boy Scout Council member and Auburn defensive end, officially retired 17 years ago, but you would never know it. At age 74, his schedule is packed tighter than ever.
For instance, as a senior judge who travels the state handling cases that no other judge wants, he rises at 4:45 a.m., undergoes a punishing array of calisthenics, eats a light breakfast and is off to court – which could be anywhere from Rabun Gap to Tybee Light.
Depending on the case and trial site, he may return to his Atlanta home in time for dinner with Margaret, his wife of 49 years, but most of the time he’s not home till hours after the sun has gone down.
Langford’s the type who always has something in the works. Either he’s off to a Boy Scout meeting, church meeting at All-Saints Episcopal Church where he taught Sunday School for 12 years, planning a canoe trip with Margaret down the Colorado River or a climbing trip to the top of Kilimanjaro. Talk about a Renaissance man.
When I first contacted Judge Langford he had just returned from the National Boy Scout Jamboree where he was a volunteer commissioner overseeing the needs of 42 Scout Troops. Any honor the Boy Scouts award, Langford has it – Eagle Scout, Silver Beaver, national council member.
He carried the Olympic Torch for the Scouts. After 64 years with scouting he’s still at it. No job was too big for him and now none is too small – he’s currently an assistant scoutmaster and Webeloes den leader.
Someone once told Langford that to succeed, all he had to do was last. And last he has. The word quit never has been in his vocabulary. When he couldn’t make it as a running back at Auburn, instead of giving up, he became a defensive end – one of the most feared in the Southeastern Conference.
He ran the old Northside High School track for 50 years; it took a brain hemorrhage to stop him. Before “retiring,” he spent 39 years on the bench, first as a Juvenile Court Judge of Fulton County, then as a state court and superior court judge.
Langford grew up in Griffin, where his dad was city manager. He spent most of his time with the late Jim Cavan, coach of the Griffin High football team. He played three years at quarterback, well enough to earn All-State honors and attract the attention of recruiters from Clemson, the U.S. Naval Academy, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Auburn.
“I liked Clemson but coach Frank Howard ran the single wing. I was a T-Formation quarterback.”
Langford chose Auburn. As it turned out, the formation made little difference. Auburn had quarterbacks named Bobby Freeman and Vince Dooley (yes, that Vince Dooley) and they guided the Tigers to three bowl games.
“I had my heart set on playing quarterback or fullback. I was the starting fullback my junior year but I got hurt before the season started and I lost my job. I was crestfallen. I was going to quit the team. But Coach Joel Eaves told me I could play defensive end; that I should never quit the team or anything
“So I stuck it out despite breaking my collar bone three times and my nose once. I had a great year in 1951 except against Tech when the Tech quarterback [Darrell Crawford] threw four passes over my head, over the heads of the safety men, Dooley and Freeman, and into the arms of his end, Buck Martin, for touchdowns. Tech won, 28-0.
“It was a lesson I never forgot. One minute you are sitting on top of the world and the next minute you can be flat on your back. But like Coach Eaves said, ‘You never, ever quit.’ “
And Langford didn’t quit. He was a natural leader – at Auburn where he received his undergraduate degree and was a straight-A student and later when he attended law school at the University of Georgia. He was president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and at Auburn, he was cadet commander of the Air Force ROTC. He served two years in the Air Force, commanding security and military police units. He received his law degree from Emory University.
What advice would he give today’s children? “Do not avoid the obstacles. When you are grown and competing to survive, you are going to have to do the difficult, the darn near impossible. And if you don’t quit, you can do it.”