Roland H. Lange's talents helped him excel in two very different fields. His rapport with people made him a natural in the business world, and he became the president and vice chairman of the board of the insurance company now known as The Hartford. His business skills helped him become a national leader in the American Red Cross, where he helped raise millions of dollars.
"He had a knack for getting along with people," said his son, Robert.
Lange, a longtime resident of West Hartford, died on April 29. He was 102.
He was born on July 24, 1910, in Chicago, but his father, Robert Lange, died when he was a teenager, leaving him, a brother, and his mother, Elizabeth.
Lange started studying architecture but dropped out, then began working for the Hartford Fire Insurance Co., in the mail room. When the company realized his potential, it agreed to finance his college education if he would major in business.
"He couldn't afford to flunk," his son said. "He studied and studied and studied, and got straight A's" -- and graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Business (now the Kellogg School of Management). He became a field agent, selling fire insurance around the Midwest, ranging from Kansas to Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, until he was offered a position as a vice president at the home office.
Lange moved to Hartford in 1950, along with his wife, Florence Shwartzloff, whom he had courted at their bus stop in Chicago after meeting her once through friends.
While he was at the company, the fire insurance business and the liability business were brought together under the name the Hartford Insurance Group, and Lange was president and vice chairman of the board when he retired in 1970. One of his co-workers was the famously taciturn and reclusive poet, Wallace Stevens, a vice president of The Hartford until the 1950s. Stevens was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Awards.
Lange liked to tell the story of their interactions, as recounted in a Courant story written by Connie Neyer in 1993.
"As to Wallace Stevens, I was advised not to insult his intelligence with trivial conversation. And so it was that when our mutual habits brought us to the executive washroom at identical times, I acknowledged his presence and, likewise, he did mine and nothing more," Lange told Neyer.
"This went on for some time, until one morning at our usual tryst, he turned to me and in his resonant baritone said, 'Mr. Lange, a word with you.' I recoiled, wondering what gaffe I had committed.
"He went on, 'You and I have been meeting in this sanctum for many months and you have said to me, "Good morning, Mr. Stevens," and I have said, "Good morning, Mr. Lange," and with that we have each gone our way. You have not commented on the weather nor the latest political fiasco nor some sporting outcome and, for that, I wish to thank you!'"
In 2009, Lange, then 99, spoke at the dedication of a walk honoring Stevens with stanzas from his poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."
Early in his years in Hartford, Lange, like other junior executives, was urged to take on some volunteer work, and one day, a boss suggested he do something for the American Red Cross. Over the next 45 years, the organization became his passion.
After he retired, he devoted nearly all his time to the Red Cross, rising from chapter chairman to a seat on the national board of governors. He was instrumental in moving the state office of the Red Cross to Farmington and developing a blood testing center, which was later named for him.
"He was known as Mr. Red Cross," said his son, Robert.
Lange had a talent for raising money, which made him invaluable, and for a while, he served as the unpaid assistant to the president of the Red Cross, traveled once a month to Washington and flying around the country giving speeches and counseling chapters.
"He believed very much in the mission of the Red Cross," said Robert, "and was a real advocate of the notion of volunteerism."
Lange is the only person to have received the title of National Vice Chairman Emeritus.
Lange also was involved in other civic endeavors. The governor named him to the State Ethics Commission, and he was chairman of the State Gaming Board, the Civic Center Authority and Connecticut Public Television. He loved music, and had played the saxophone well enough as a youth to be asked to join a big band -- though he declined in favor of a more stable income and lifestyle. He served as the chair of development for the Hartt School of Music.
Lange loved to be at the center of attention and to entertain. He had a strong sense of fashion, which sometimes included gardening in a blue blazer. He preferred Jaguars, and drove his azure blue vehicle with panache.
In addition to his son, Lange is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth Leon, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His wife died in 2007.
"He was very indispensable for getting the Red Cross the support it needed," said Dr. Ritchard Cable, the former medical director of the blood center. "He was very direct and not afraid to ask people for things."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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