The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas is forever grateful for the dedicated service of former organization president Ralph Langer, who passed away in August at age 84. FOIFT honored Langer at our Sept. 24, 2021, state conference with the following remembrance delivered by current board president Arif Panju:
In Memoriam, Ralph Langer
Ralph Langer was the former long-time president of the Freedom of Information Foundation and the guiding light behind transforming the Foundation into the leading voice in Texas on open government and the First Amendment.
Ralph died August 5 at his home in Rockwall after an illness. He was 84 years old.
Ralph retired in the late 1990s as the editor of The Dallas Morning News. He guided The News to five Pulitzer Prizes during his tenure.
In 1992, the newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for a series exposing the use of excessive — and often deadly — force by Texas law enforcement. Much of the information and data for the series came from open records requests to police departments and sheriff’s offices. As part of the series, Langer approved the filing of lawsuits by The News to enforce the right of news media access to public information.
Robert Decherd, chairman and CEO of Belo Corp., the parent of The News, tasked Ralph in the mid-1980s with making something out of the FOI Foundation. Decherd had helped establish the organization in the late 1970s. For its first several years, the FOI Foundation had been little more than an idea as an informal adjunct to the Dallas Press Club.
That soon changed with Ralph in charge. With the encouragement of Decherd, Langer secured a seed grant of $150,000 from Belo that allowed the FOI Foundation to hire full-time paid staff housed in permanent office space, complete with working telephones and fax machines.
Ralph hired Nancy Monson as executive director and the two formed a strong partnership in creating the Foundation’s structure, programs and goals that have carried forward to today.
Ralph recruited editors from the state’s largest daily newspapers to the Foundation’s board along with many of the lawyers who fought First Amendment battles for those newspapers.
Ralph shepherded the FOI Foundation’s first annual conferences into existence. He attracted keynote speakers to Foundation events from among the most prominent state and national journalists and thought leaders.
With Ralph showing the way, it became obligatory for the leaders of the Texas Legislature to pay heed to the Foundation on every bill affecting open government.
Ralph also led the Foundation in offering open government seminars to the public, journalists and government employees.
Among his survivors is Ralph’s wife of 61 years, Kathy Langer, who dedicated countless volunteer hours to the Foundation.
We will now take a moment of silence to honor Ralph.
Click here to view video of Arif Panju’s tribute to Langer at the FOIFT state conference. The remembrance is at the beginning of the video clip.