Remembering Phil Langley

Columbus, OH – Phil Langley loved obituaries. No one alerted us to more deaths than he did, a practice that didn’t abate even after he stepped down as the USTA president at the end of 2016. And it wasn’t just that he would let us know that someone had passed away. Almost always, the notification came attached to a personal quote, anecdote, or story from Phil, along with a brief message asking that his words be included as part of the tribute to the recently departed.

Former USTA President Phil Langley (right), who died at age 83 on Saturday (April 11), with Mike Tanner. USTA Photo.

It struck me as odd, at least at first. Over time, though, I grew to understand that harness racing, and especially its people, were fundamentally central to the core of who Phil was, and, beyond that, part of the sport’s shared, collective past. History must be preserved. Attention must be paid.

The irony is that Phil, the longtime USTA president and Hall of Famer who passed away on Saturday (April 11) at the age of 83, would never have expected anyone to insert themselves into his obituary. He would have told me not to do it. That he’s not here to issue that directive is profoundly sad.

Here’s what you should know about Phil. He was smart, a Dartmouth graduate who never played up his Ivy League pedigree. He saw things largely in black in white, but had great appreciation and patience for viewpoints that weren’t his own. I can’t remember winning many arguments with him, but that’s because he usually was right, and he never failed to hear me, or anyone else, out. He was seen as an old school guy, but under his leadership, the USTA embraced and launched an extensive social media initiative and beat every other breed registry to the punch in pioneering online entry. He was gentle and he was kind. He loved his wife and kids, of whom he was incredibly proud, and doted on his grandchildren. He loved being the USTA president, and was proud of the organization and the staff. He looked out for people. He had a brilliantly dry sense of humor, loved to laugh, and was a skilled storyteller.  He was stoic about problems and challenges, and I never heard him make an excuse or utter a word in self-pity.   He loved horses and the men and women who cared for them. He was honest and direct. If he told you that he would do something, you knew that he would. He was my friend.

Phil had a habit of not saying goodbye at the end of phone calls, which would often conclude abruptly and without warning. I never quite understood it, and until you got used to it, those endings could be rather jarring. But when I would think back on the conversation that we had just had, there was nothing left unsaid, nothing that required further clarification. As he did in every other facet of his life, Phil had covered all the bases.

The United States Trotting Association extends its sympathy and condolences to the family of F. Phillip Langley, our leader and our friend. Thank you for sharing him with us.

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