ST. PETERSBURG — If someone needed help, Joseph Lang would be there.
That was the reputation the lawyer and community leader had built for himself after working in the area for more than 50 years.
Mr. Lang, 80, died Saturday.
He was known for his infectious smile and impeccable dress style, but remembered most for his giving spirit, whether it was to the community or a client in need.
"We lost a real community leader," said David Neely, past chair of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg board, which Mr. Lang had served on for two decades. "We lost a great guy for our city."
Born in Cleveland, Mr. Lang moved to Pass-a-Grille when he was nine, and his father died a few years later. The oldest of three siblings, a sense of responsibility was thrust on him at an early age, his youngest son, Jim Lang, 34, said.
He attended Disston Junior High School, Admiral Farragut Academy and was part of the first graduating class of Boca Ciega High School. He served two years in the Navy and returned to St. Petersburg Junior College (now St. Petersburg College) before going onto Duke and the University of Florida, the first in his family to graduate college. After graduating law school, he moved back to St. Petersburg and was hired by the firm of Henry "Hank" Baynard, William "Billy" McLeod, and Ben F. Overton.
He got married in 1965 and had three sons, each who followed his footsteps and practice law locally.
His eldest son, Joe Lang Jr., 48, a shareholder at Carlton Fields, said his dad inspired him when he went to law school by the pro bono services he used to provide people he encountered that needed help.
"I don’t even know he thought of it as pro bono," Joe Lang Jr. said. "To Dad, it was these people are in need and I’m going to help them. I’m just going to do it and not charge them. ... Dad understood that only lawyers can provide legal services and it is incumbent upon lawyers to do pro bono work."
Mr. Lang was proud of his involvement in the civil rights movement in St. Petersburg in the 1960s and ’70s, his sons said, and his participation in sit-ins and fighting for the integration of Dixie Hollins High School. Later in life, he enjoyed meeting with leaders of the black community to discuss current day issues, Jim Lang, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, said.
Education, he said, was another passion of his, particularly the community college system, which he believed gave him access to further education.
He was a member of the Board of Trustees of St. Petersburg College for 20 years and chairman for a decade, chairman of the State Board of Community Colleges, and a member and former chairman of the Florida College System Foundation Board of Directors. He fought to guarantee that those who graduate with an AA from a Florida college could be guaranteed admission in the Florida state university system.
He was also on the board of the Pinellas County Education Foundation and Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay.
"He was an idealist," Jim Lang said. "I think he saw the world as the world should be and not necessarily as it is. And he always thought we as a country and community could get there."
Neely said he remembered Lang’s positive demeanor.
"Personally it’s a huge loss," he said. "Joe Lang was just one of those gentlemen in our community I truly admired personally and professionally. He served selflessly and was a true gentleman."
His proudest accomplishments, however were his three sons and marriage of 52 years to his wife, Elsie Lang.
Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, who first met him through work with the Suncoasters’ Festival of States and became friends with the family, said he served as a role model.
"He was very committed to his family and held up a great example of while being involved with your community and being ambitious and driven in your professional life, maintaining a great connection with your family and maintaining that as a highest priority," she said.
His middle son, Bob Lang, 45, a partner at Holland and Knight, said he remembered his dad served as a role model for his sons and expected excellence of them.
"It wasn’t if you came home with straight A’s you’d get a reward," he said. "That was what was expected. But at the same time he was also very, very funny and had great quirks and humor."
Mr. Lang was also a member of the Suncoasters, St. Petersburg Yacht Club and Dragon Club and enjoyed sailing. He believed in hard work and that the fruits of labor could be reaped, Bob Lang said. He was constantly working, doing woodworking or gardening projects around the house and involving his sons.
"‘You only get out of the bucket what you put into the bucket,’" Jim Lang said. "That’s something I probably heard more times than I care to remember."
Tomalin said his legacy of service will be remembered.
"He was a great steward of St. Pete’s culture," Tomalin said. "He will be remembered for a very, very long time. His story is an important one to our city."
Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.