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Wann Langston Jr.

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Wann Langston Jr. Obituary
Wann Langston, Jr Wann Langston, Jr., paleontologist, husband, father, and friend, passed away on Sunday, April 7th, at the age of 91, after a long and rewarding life. He followed his wife of 66 years, Marietta Evans Langston, who passed on in December. Born in 1921, in Oklahoma City, Wann was the first-born son of Wann Langston Sr. and Myrtle Fanning Langston, who did not survive the birth. Wann was raised by his stepmother Clara Jones, of Salado, Texas, who supported and loved him as her own. Wann's interest in bones and fossils started when he was very young. At four, on a trip to the natural history museum in Vienna, he saw his first giant dinosaur skeleton, and stood there transfixed until the guard came and dragged him away at closing time. When Wann was only 10, a kindly professor at the University of Oklahoma noted his enthusiasm and allowed him to assist in the preparation of fossil specimens at the lab. Throughout his long and productive professional life, he showed his gratitude to his generous early mentors by always making himself available, in a similar fashion, to young and aspiring enthusiasts who had been "bitten by the Dinosaur Bug". After serving in the Navy in WWII, Wann returned from the Pacific to continue his studies. In 1946 he married Marietta Evans. After earning his Ph.D. at Berkeley, Wann took a position as curator of fossil vertebrates at the National Museum of Canada in Ottawa. Much of his work from this time is still on display in such places as the Natural History Museum in London. In 1962, the couple and their two young daughters moved to Austin, where Wann joined the faculty at UT. He was also director of the Vertebrate Paleontology Lab from 1969 until 1986. Along with his regular teaching schedule, Wann made regular trips to the Big Bend to collect fossil specimens. He published numerous scholarly papers, mentored graduate students, and built up an invaluable library of scientific publications. Wann is probably best known outside academic circles for his work on the giant winged pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus northropi. In the 1980s, the discovery of this huge, bird-like reptile sparked the public imagination, and Wann's expertise was in high demand from filmmakers and journalists. He also (somewhat reluctantly) appeared in person in several productions. Although he officially retired from teaching in 1986, Wann continued to be fully active as a paleontologist, right up until a few weeks before his death. In his seventies he traveled to Mongolia and camped in a yurt. He also reconstructed the fossilized skull of one of the largest crocodiles to ever prowl the earth. With characteristic humor, when the giant skull recently went on display, Wann startled his colleagues by placing a pair of cowboy-booted mannequin legs in the jaws of the beast. Wann was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. His friends loved him well, his colleagues respected him, and his family depended on him as a solid and enduring source of comfort. His life was truly remarkable, and it was well lived. He will be missed. Wann Langston Jr. is survived by a sister, Nancy Gruber; two daughters, Karen Langston (of Corrales, NM) and Sandra Langston (of Bernalda, Italy); son-in-law Francesco Alianelli (Bernalda, Italy); and grandsons Stefano and Roberto Alianelli (also of Bernalda). A memorial celebration of Wann's life will be held on the main campus of The University of Texas at Austin on Sunday, May 5 from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. The event will be held in the Holland Family Student Center of the Jackson Geological Sciences Building. More information on location and parking is available at the Jackson School of Geosciences website: http://www.jsg.utexas.edu/about/directions-maps/ In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wann and Marietta Langston Research Fund at The University of Texas at Austin.


Published in Austin American-Statesman from May 2 to May 4, 2013
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