An Alumna’s Heartfelt Tribute to Dr. John Langton and the Books That Inspire Her

Jeanneane (Dixon) Maxon, ’02 ΔΔΔ, recently shared with Westminster Today a tribute she wrote to Dr. John Langton on the anniversary of her diagnosis with grade 4 glioblastoma ― a form of terminal brain cancer. A five-year cancer survivor, Maxon is an attorney, consultant, and nationally recognized speaker with 15 years of experience in non-profit executive leadership. Currently, she serves as an associate scholar for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the educational arm of Susan B. Anthony List. She also authors a standing column in Christian Counseling Today Magazine. Maxon, who lives in Wylie, TX, was a 2016 Young Alumni Achievement Award recipient. She majored in Political Science and History at Westminster.

Tattered Books: A Tribute to Dr. John Langton

By Jeanneane Maxon, A Grateful Former Student

Five years ago, this day (Dec. 17, 2015), a lime-sized tumor was discovered in the right frontal lobe of my brain. Two weeks later, I received the devastating news that I had grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme, an extremely aggressive form of cancer for which there is no known cure. Early on, a good friend of mine, and cancer survivor, told me to develop an obsession to keep my mind off my grim diagnosis. I took her advice and began building a personal library, because I have always loved to read and loved being surrounded by books. Over the past five years, I added numerous books to my collection: now topping over 1,500! Many of my volumes are precious. My collection contains two editions of The Harvard Classics, a full set of Mortimer Adler’s Great Books of the Western World, and books autographed by former presidents, financial powerhouses, and other persons of historic influence. My townhouse dons two five-foot-tall bookcases filled with leather-bound classics.

What does this have to do with Dr. John Langton, a freshly retired political science professor from Westminster College? Among my collection of books are two with special meaning: Green Political Thought and Plato’s The Republic. While most of my books are in great condition ― some were expensive and hard to locate or have beautiful leather decorative covers ― Green Political Thought and The Republic are old, tattered, torn, and well-used. Book shoppers would likely pass over these two books just based on their extremely poor condition, but I value these two books as much as any of my others. When you open either book, you will find pages of markings, underlines, and highlights. Some pages have bent corners, which the reader substituted for bookmarks. Yet, I value these books as two of the most treasured in my collection. I purchased these books 20 years ago at the campus bookstore of my alma mater, Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. They were required for a course entitled Introduction to Political Theory, taught by Dr. John Langton.

Dr. Langton had a reputation at Westminster, which, frankly, intimidated me. When I was considering Westminster College my senior year of high school, I visited the campus for a scholarship competition. Upon my arrival, my admissions counselor warned me: If I were to be interviewed by Dr. Langton, I should be prepared to speak to my favorite political philosopher/philosophy. Fortunately, I believed I could “wing it” with my rudimentary knowledge of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. But who was this man that would warrant this warning?

Upon entering Westminster College, my fellow students spoke fondly, yet honestly, about the professor — he was interesting, humorous, and fun, but his courses were among the most challenging at the college. I would not interact with Dr. Langton until the second semester of my freshman year, and then only briefly at a luncheon. I don’t recall my exchange with the professor, but I remember feeling inadequate, as so often happens when you are speaking with an intellectual superior. I would take Introduction to Political Theory one year later. I had been able to maintain a perfect 4.0 GPA by the time I entered the professor’s class. Believing this would be my most challenging course yet, I was nervous about maintaining my GPA. I quickly found that I loved the course and the professor. Following a semester studying abroad, I would take two more courses with the professor, including being a mentor for the freshmen in his Freshman Seminar course. Not only that, he became a mentor to me and helped me gain admission into Harvard Law School. What is more, he became my friend.

As a professor, he was appropriately challenging yet also encouraging. As a mentor and friend, he cared. As we were moving through The Republic, I found the professor was encouraging and communicated in a method to which college-aged students could relate. As we worked through The Republic, I asked a question (I don’t recall exactly what it was), and the professor described it as a “top-shelf” question. As I beamed with pride, I also realized that his response engaged the other students who understood the reference to “top shelf.” No one was more excited to get the news of my admission into Harvard Law School than the professor.

Using the Green Political Thought text, the professor challenged me to seriously consider social issues I had not yet given proper attention to, such as global warming and the depletion of global natural resources. Dr. Langton never pressured or belittled students into agreeing with his viewpoints. Instead, he wisely provided his students with the information necessary for them to reach the conclusion on their own. I loved this about him, and I respected him for it.  After my graduation, I held on to Green Political Thought and The Republic because of the wonderful memories they brought to me, not just for their great content.

The professor recently retired, leaving behind an incredible legacy of vigorously and self-sacrificially pouring into the lives of hundreds upon hundreds of students, from all parts of the globe. As I reflected on my time with Dr. Langton, and my retention of the books used in my first class with him, I have realized that these books offer more than just memories and education. They are an analogy of my relationship with the professor.

People are like books. Eventually your daily interaction with them comes to an end. While books and people may be placed on a “shelf,” for the best ones, you never forget what they brought to your life. I found this to be most true in my relationship with Dr. John Langton.

From time to time, I will flip through the torn and tattered Green Political Thought and The Republic, and look at my notes and highlights before carefully placing them back on the shelves. After my graduation, I would, from time to time, email my dear professor. Both activities elevated my soul — the feeling you get when you reconnect with an old friend. Occasionally, I would reread portions of the text of the books, and occasionally, I would have the pleasure of returning to Fulton and would check in with my professor, mentor, and friend. While nothing can replace that first experience of reading a new book or meeting a great human being for the first time, more precious is the moment you realize the full impact they have had on your life.

Dr. Langton, on behalf of the hundreds of students and thousands of people you have impacted in your long career, I thank you for allowing us to fold your pages, mark you up, and interact with you even when it left you with highlights and notes on your pages. We are all the better for it. Indeed, the best books are the ones that are used, interacted with, and even tattered or torn.

With love and appreciation,

Jeanneane Maxon
Class of 2002

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is a Media and Content Strategist at Westminster College in Fulton, MO. A 1992 graduate of the College, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communication in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.