ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Journal publisher emeritus Thompson H. Lang, who in addition to publishing New Mexico’s largest newspaper for more than four decades, was a pilot, musician, successful developer, quiet philanthropist and devoted father. He died early Saturday at age 69 after a long illness.
Known to friends and generations of employees simply as Tom, he was a strong supporter of open government and a vigilant opponent of public corruption.
Lang became publisher of the Journal in 1971 at age 24 after the unexpected death of his father, C.T. Lang, becoming president of both the Journal Publishing Co. and the Albuquerque Publishing Co., which prints and distributes the newspaper. His brother, William P. “Bill” Lang, succeeded Tom as publisher in 2012.
During his career, Tom Lang oversaw growth of the newspaper from “hot type” to the digital age as he launched successful electronic products including ABQjournal.com, which recorded more than 800,000 unique visitors last month, in addition to an unwavering commitment to the print edition.
“Tom was very fortunate to be able to lead the Albuquerque Journal for over 40 years, developing new ventures along the way, Journal Center the most notable, and at the same time raising very talented twin daughters,” Bill Lang said. “Those who have known him or worked with him have developed a strong mutual admiration.”
Tom Lang’s support, financial and otherwise, helped found the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, and he supported many civil lawsuits brought by the Journal and other news organizations to secure public records from government entities throughout the state.
State Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, and the newspaper’s legal counsel for 35 years before retiring from the practice of law, recalled a comment Tom Lang once made: “Newspapers are empowered by the people under the First Amendment to report and record for the people in our free society. That is a duty and a privilege.”
“Together we successfully fought numerous battles to preserve the First Amendment rights and government transparency for New Mexicans,” Dines said. “Tom was one of a rare breed of individuals devoted to New Mexico who was willing to stand his ground against tremendous odds.”
Lang was proud of the newsroom and saw many awards given to the newspaper and its editorial staff over the years, including a Pulitzer Prize for reporting that linked a rare blood disorder to an over-the-counter dietary supplement. The stories led to a national recall of the product.
At Lang’s direction, the Journal created an investigative reporting position in the 1970s and from that time has maintained a team of investigative reporters even though many larger newspapers discontinued the specialized in-depth reporting.
“Tom was always a strong supporter of the newsroom and had a real affection for the reporters out digging for stories,” Journal Editor Kent Walz said. “He was committed to uncovering and reporting the truth, and he was a skilled participant in the editing and vetting of hard-hitting investigative stories.”
In addition to being an accomplished aerobatic pilot, Lang also flew the company jet to carry reporters and photographers to major news events around the country, including earthquakes in California, hurricanes in Florida, the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York.
Tom Lang also used the company plane to pick up two polar bear cubs in Canada and deliver them to the Rio Grande Zoo. He also transported a baby gorilla.
Although the bears and gorilla were big news stories, Tom Lang quietly performed many other philanthropic deeds and supported various causes, including the All Faiths Receiving Home. He flew speakers to Albuquerque for charity events, transported hearts for transplants and ferried cancer patients out of state for treatment, to name a few.
Yet he avoided the spotlight and eschewed recognition.
Walz recalled an occasion when a prominent local organization asked Lang to accept its “Philanthropist of the Year” award.
“He graciously declined, so the organization asked if I could persuade him,” Walz said. “I tried, but while he was incredibly generous, he simply wanted to do his good deeds privately.”
Before his father’s death, Tom Lang worked at the publishing company and the Journal in jobs ranging from cleaning restrooms to developing film for Journal photographers.
In addition to publishing the newspaper, Tom Lang also was instrumental in the significant expansion of other family businesses.
“The decision to relocate the Journal from downtown in the early 1980s not only resulted in a new state-of-the art newspaper publishing facility but also the creation of The Journal Center,” said Lowell Hare, President & CEO of Journal Center and executive vice president and CFO of Journal Publishing Co. “His ability to envision a project from its earliest stages to completion was a very unique talent, and he also believed we could accomplish any task if we fully dedicated ourselves to do so.”
Journal Center is one of the city’s most successful developments and became the nucleus of the North I-25 Corridor, which is now the largest employment area in Albuquerque. More than 8,000 people work for employers in the business park itself.
For all his success, Tom Lang viewed himself as a regular guy. He liked chatting with drivers, press operators and maintenance staffers and took pride in the fact that more than 100 employees of JPC and APC had been employed at the companies for more than 25 years. He began a tradition that still exists of recognizing each 25th anniversary with a portrait to be hung in the cafeteria, a special lunch or dinner and a Rolex watch.
In a famous newsroom story, Lang was finishing some wiring on a newsroom fax machine during the Journal’s move from downtown.
A grumpy copy editor, no doubt feeling the stress of deadlines and the move, didn’t recognize the publisher, who was clad in jeans and an old sweatshirt, screwdriver in hand. The copy editor more or less chewed him out and asked if it was possible for him to go any slower and “didn’t he know we had a newspaper to put out.”
Tom Lang simply looked at him and said he would get right on it and try to pick up the pace.
He laughed about the story many times over the years and said no one in management should even mention it to the copy editor.
That is consistent with the warm side of the man who was known to sit at night with friends and co-workers who were ill, and who as an adult took up classical guitar. He became quite accomplished and was a close friend of the renowned guitar-making Pimentel family.
Tom Lang was an Albuquerque native who attended Albuquerque High School, the University of New Mexico and the University of the Americas in Mexico City.
He is survived by daughters Brittany and Maggie and was preceded in death by his son, Tommy.
Funeral arrangements are pending.