| By John Howell Sr.
As word traveled through Panola County during the weekend about the tragic death of a University police officer, Panola residents offered their remembrances of Robert Langley as a soldier, husband, father and friend.
Langley died early Saturday morning after being dragged by a motorist he had stopped on the University of Mississippi campus.
"He was an awesome father and husband," said newly-widowed Lisa Langley.
They had married in February, 2005, cancelling their plans for a big wedding when the National Guard soldier received his orders for Afghanistan deployment, she said. Instead, they were married in a smaller ceremony at the Sardis Lake Baptist Church where they were members.
Langley was a member of the 114th Field Artillery, based in New Albany. His homecoming in April after serving 14 months turned into a spontaneous celebration at Batesville Elementary School that teacher Frances Ashcraft photographed and remembers well.
"His daughter … was in kindergarten and he came to see her along with Mrs. Lloyd and Mrs. Broome’s class," Ashcraft recalled. "With the grace that only flows from our Lord Jesus, he listened, talked, looked and was one with the class. Not one moment was about him. There was no boasting. There was complete humility," the BES teacher continued.
Ashcraft said that Langley also had other plans the day he visited his daughter’s school, but he put those plans on hold to extend his visit. "He patiently allowed us to assemble kindergarten in the hallway to honor him. He let children touch and know a soldier. He gazed at them as only love can gaze, and you knew you were in the presence of God Almighty loving his children through a person of God," Ashcraft continued.
Circling the school and arriving back at the foyer of the annex, Langley encountered a small boy who wanted to talk to him, Ashcraft said. "He stooped to be at eye level with this boy and listened and talked with him until the boy was finished; not when he, the soldier, decided it was time to go, but more importantly, when the boy finished," she recalled.
"How vastly important to let something other than yourself decide what is important and for how long and with what intensity," the teacher continued. "This soldier was fully aware. He was being life at its finest."
The completion of Langley’s tour in Afghanistan had coincided with the completion of his National Guard enlistment, his widow said. Nevertheless, he had re-enlisted.
Lisa and Robert had met when they were both officers with the University Police Department, Lisa said. He had grown up in Madison County. When he attended the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers’ Training Academy, Langley had been selected by his instructors as squad leader.
After their marriage, Langley moved to Panola County. Lisa took a job as rural mail carrier at the Courtland Post Office. Their son, Cory Bridges Langley, was born in September, 2005. He joined Robbie Langley and Maci Kirkland, both now six. Langley’s daughter, Ann Clare Bufkin, age nine, lives in Lafayette County, Lisa Langley said.
"He was a real, real good fellow," Langley’s friend, Ricky Swindle said. "He’d do exactly what he said he was going to do," continued Swindle, whose familiar sign at his Batesville Tire and Muffler proclaimed a message that welcomed Langley home when he returned from Afghanistan service.
Swindle said that Langley had borrowed his tractor in preparation for a family move to File Road.
"He brought the tractor back in better shape than when he left with it. You know, I appreciated that," Swindle said.
The University Police Department officer had just recently completed training with a Belgian Malinois, Truus, becoming a certified canine officer.
Funeral services for Langley will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Ford Center on the University of Mississippi campus.
Visitation will be today from 5-8 p.m. at the Ford Center.
(See complete obituary on page A2.)