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James Talley Lang | 1921-2012

James Talley Lang, a St. Petersburg civic advocate, dies at age 90

ST. PETERSBURG — James Talley Lang, a significant force in shaping the city during the latter part of the 20th century, was attracted to water. An ardent mariner, he served as commodore of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, where he helped to develop the Youth Sailing Center and supported the Olympic campaigns of St. Petersburg sailors Ed Baird and Allison Jolly.

During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy aboard the destroyer USS Kalk, which was heavily damaged during a kamikaze attack. He joined the Naval Reserve after the war and was called back to active duty during the Berlin Crisis of 1961, serving in the Caribbean as commander of the USS Greenwood. He later he attended the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I., and retired with the rank of captain.

Mr. Lang was devoted to St. Petersburg. He was president of the Suncoasters civic association, which named him Mr. Sun in 1970. He was chairman of the Pinellas County Committee of 100. He helped create Pioneer Park downtown and was president of its foundation.

And he was one of the "three Jims and a Jack" (Mr. Lang, lawyer James Martin, businessman James Healey and then-St. Petersburg Times publisher Jack Lake) who were integral in attracting what became the Salvador Dalí Museum.

Mr. Lang died Sept. 20 at age 90.

Speaking at a memorial service on Tuesday at the First United Methodist Church, Martin said he regarded Mr. Lang as a mentor. In 1980, after reading in the Wall Street Journal that Reynolds and Eleanor Morse were looking for a permanent home for their collection of art by Salvador Dalí, Martin said, "I called Jim Lang with an idea. … I asked him what he thought about St. Petersburg as the permanent home (for a Dalí Museum). Jim said he liked the idea, but he didn't stop there. He put together meetings with key leaders in the community to help to bring it about.

"And just 10 months later the Salvador Dalí Museum was moved from Cleveland to St. Petersburg, where it opened in 1982 to rave reviews throughout the world. Then Jim helped guide the new museum through its first five years until it became self-supporting."

Mr. Lang's daughter, Karen Lang Johnston, said her father probably knew little about the artist, but he thought the museum would be good for the city. "Once he got to know the Morses, he got a big kick out of them," she said.

Nearly 30 years later, as she pointed out the new Dalí museum to her father, she asked him whether he thought he made the right call in helping to bring the collection to town.

"You bet I did," he told her. "And I'd do it again."

Mr. Lang was a native of Indiana who moved to St. Petersburg as a toddler, attending St. Petersburg High School and St. Petersburg Junior College, then graduating from the University of Florida. For 64 years, he was married to Dorothy Gustafson Lang.

He was a certified public accountant who became president of the Florida Institute of CPAs and began a banking career after his retirement. He was active in numerous civic organizations.

"It seemed to me that Jim was everywhere and knew everyone," Martin said.

For years, Mr. Lang played golf five days a week in a group that liked to say it played "at sunrise at Sunset," gathering at 7 a.m. at the old Sunset Country Club, now the Renaissance Vinoy Golf Club.

Those who knew him described Mr. Lang as quiet and inviting, with a quick wit and a sense of humor.

"Dad never raised his voice," remembered his son, James Talley Lang Jr. When he voiced his disapproval, "he would say, 'I'm very disappointed.' "

"Laid-back and low-key," Johnston said. "That was his nature. Things didn't ruffle him."

He is survived by his wife, Dorothy Gustafson Lang; daughter, Karen Lang Johnston; son, James Talley Lang Jr.; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

James Talley Lang, a St. Petersburg civic advocate, dies at age 90 09/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 4:31am]
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