Mrs. Kathleen Langston: Real Live “Guardian Angel”

Guardian angel, advocate, fairy godmother, lifesaver, protector…these words are all interchangeable and most would agree that they refer to someone who looks after, or is concerned with, the welfare of others. For Mrs. Kathleen Langston, “Guardian Angel” best describes her. In both her professional life and personal life she has looked after the welfare of others with love and care.

A native of Benicia, Kathleen is the daughter of Norman and Mary Gonsalves.

Her father and paternal grandmother  grew up in Benicia, while her maternal grandfather emigrated here from Portugal. Kathleen’s heritage is Portuguese, and Benicia’s history tells of a significant Portuguese community settling here in the early years. Her family has a long legacy in Benicia, and they are known for their “behind the scenes” acts of kindness. Her late brother Norm has a bench dedicated to him at the corner of First and H St. He was always helping out his fellow Benicians, going the extra mile to be of service. The late Norm Sr. and Norm Jr. were active for many years with the Holy Ghost Society in Benicia, which commemorates the 16th century feeding of the famine stricken Portuguese people by Queen Isabella. Kathleen, her sister Nancy, brothers Ken and Ronald also have participated significantly in this celebration over the years. Three great aunts in the family who were Dominican Sisters, Sr. Baptista, Sr. Andre, and Sr. Theophane are perfect examples of selflessness. Sr. Theophane served as principal of St. Vincent Ferrer High School in Vallejo in the ‘60s, and was the first principal at Justin (Sienna) High School in Napa.

As Kathleen’s parents and relatives have modeled this care and concern for others,  it is not surprising that it characterizes Kathleen. What are those particular acts of selfless giving that give her Guardian Angel status? There are two stories to tell. The first narrative begins with her years of dedication working at St. Dominic’s School in Benicia…a 37 year legacy. Kathleen first began as a volunteer, working in her eldest daughter’s classroom in 1985. It wasn’t long before the principal, Alice Maxwell, recognized Kathleen’s strong work ethic, confidence, and skills, and hired her as the school’s librarian and computer teacher. In the ensuing years she took on substitute teaching in all the classes, and was a long term sub in the 3rd and 7th grades.

But it is Kathleen’s 30 years as the school’s secretary, where angel status is most apparent.

Arriving at 6:45 every morning, she wasn’t officially on the clock until 7:30 a.m. She answered the phone, did the filing and the ordering, made schedules, printed copies, answered questions, etc., but she did so much more than that. She served the children, the parents, the teachers and staff of St. Dominic’s in ways beyond her job description. She was a manager, counselor, nurse, disciplinarian, social worker, money lender, and a seamstress. She stitched the hems of the girls’ uniform skirts when they unraveled, bandaged scraped knees, loaned money for hot lunch, soothed the crying child, “counseled” parents not to sweat the small stuff, assisted the principal, teachers, and staff with their needs, gave advice when solicited, the list goes on and on.

Kathleen Langston dedication

Asked what was the most rewarding part of her job, Kathleen responded, “the hugs and smiles of the kids.”  She remembers the child who cried when she retired last year (which brought a tear to her eye). Working with eight principals over the years, Kathleen recalls one of her favorites, Sr. Elizabeth Curtis. A legend at the school, “Sr. Liz” was a compassionate, dynamic, spiritual leader, whose sense of humor and energy made the workday a joy.

Kathleen has been honored several times by the school over the years, with 2 yearbooks dedicated to her.

She was honored by a  graduating class who presented her with a statue of a guardian angel, thanking her for being the “Guardian Angel of the whole school.” What is most endearing to Kathleen after all the years at the school is the playground structure that was dedicated to her upon her retirement.

Guardian Angel status is cemented for Kathleen in the second narrative of her story, her personal life. She and her husband Bob raised their own two daughters, and then raised two adopted children. Ten years ago Kathleen lost her husband of thirty-five years in an untimely death, and then just two years later lost her daughter, who had a young son, to an unexpected illness. Having lost his mother, Kathleen raised her grandson, who continues to live with her while he attends community college. Clearly, after  years of care, love, and concern, looking after the welfare of others, in her personal life and in her professional life, Kathleen is a protector, lifesaver, fairy godmother…a Guardian Angel. Coping with all the sadness she has experienced, Kathleen says she is “grateful to have been working at St. Dominic’s at the time. I needed to be there because it got me through. I had to be strong for my family and the people at St. Dominic’s supported me.” One last note… Kathleen provided all of the Christmas gifts for a different needy family in Benicia every year, for 20 years.

Thanks Mrs. Langston, you’ve earned your wings.

Kathleen is currently enjoying retirement, filling her days with gardening, lunching with friends, and regularly “pals around” with her sister, Nancy.

Photos by Cathy Coe