Longtime WG&L counsel Langstaff dead at age 80

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- Robert B. Langstaff, the central figure in litigating decades worth of federal energy regulatory law on behalf of the customers of the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission, died Tuesday morning at his home. He was 80.

Labeled a "legal titan," by his colleagues, Langstaff was pronounced dead early Tuesday morning after paramedics and fire crews responded to his home on West Meade Avenue in reference to a cardiac arrest.

Langstaff's death shook City Hall, where his son Bob Langstaff, commissioner for residents of Ward 5, rushed out of the commission's work session shortly after it convened at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Upon receiving word of Langstaff Sr.'s death, Mayor Willie Adams, who is also chairman of the WG&L Board, stopped discussion and action at the meeting and called for a moment of silence in observance.

During his tenure at WG&L, Langstaff Sr. was instrumental in establishing utility's relationship with the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and continued representing the utility until his death, friend and former mayor Tommy Coleman said.

"He was a legal titan," Coleman said. "We were lucky to have a man of such integrity and foresight associated with this city, and it is an understatement to say that he will be deeply missed."

State Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, who also serves as board member for WG&L, wept at the Capitol in Atlanta upon learning of her friend's death.

"He was of the stature that lawyers aspire to be in terms of his ethics and his work ethic," she said. "He was a mentor to many and advocate of the rate payers, both here and in Washington."

A jovial spirit, Langstaff was prone to tease and kid his friends, Fullerton said, but when it came time to get to work, none worked harder for the customers of WG&L.

Nicknamed "Bigfoot" by former mayor James Gray Sr. after he nearly crushed former WG&L General Manager Walter Rodemann's foot on a plane, Coleman, also known as "Lord Mayor" by Langstaff, said that it wasn't hard to know where you stood with Langstaff.

"If you didn't want to know about where he stood on an issue, you knew you needed to leave room," Coleman said. "He wasn't shy about voicing his opinion."

That opinion was voiced loud and clear in the late 1990s when the prospect of deregulation reared its head, prompting WG&L to tuck away millions with MEAG, and prompting Langstaff to urge the board to "flex its political muscle."

As a commissioner, Langstaff Jr. now sits on the committee that will determine how $30 million of that money will be spent.

Langstaff Sr. also gave his approval of a 1975 resolution that ended a years-long territorial dispute between WG&L and Georgia Power Co.

And Langstaff Sr. was no less vocal outside of the walls of WG&L.

In 1973, Langstaff Sr. helped draft the legal documents that would create the Darton (then Albany Junior) College Foundation and then jumped on board as one of its charter members. He became a trustee emeritus in 1993. In 1995, he was named a Friend of the College, a prestigious honor reserved for those in the community who played a central role in Darton's development.

In 1993, Langstaff argued a landmark utility case for the city of Athens before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that ultimately allows city-based utilities to charge county residents more for water consumption, given the fact that they don't pay city taxes and that it costs the city to lay the infrastructure to pump the water to rural county users.

Fullerton, who also attended St. Paul's Episcopal Church with Langstaff Sr., said that his death will likely create a void in how WG&L is represented on major regulatory issues.

"He was someone who, even approaching 80, was always willing to give advice and help and that kind of experience will not be easy to find," she said.

Kimbrell-Stern Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.