‘Without her I’d be zero’

Published 6:20 am Saturday, June 30, 2012

For Dr. Johnny Long and his wife, Mary Lynn, June 25, 2012 was “A Star Spangled Night.”

Although they were far from home, they were surrounded by the love and affection that comes from deep appreciation for unselfish and tireless contributions to mankind.

On that night, the Longs were honored by the American Band College at “the Crate” in Medford, Oregon for “their” contributions to band music across America.

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The recognitions and awards that Dr. Johnny Long has received over his long and storied career as a “band master” could fill the deep blue sea. And, he has appreciated each and every one of them. But, the recognition that he and his wife received at the Ginger Rogers Craterian Theater was very special. So special that Long had to blink back tears.

“What was so special about this award is that Mary Lynn shared it with me,” he said. “She has been a part of everything that I have ever done – the reason for what I have done. Any success that I have achieved was because of her. Without her, I would have been nothing. I would have been zero.”

But Mary Lynn Long is certain that her husband would have been successful without her but she’s glad that she was along for the ride that began 62 years ago.

Perhaps it was destiny that brought their lives together or maybe it was just “fortunate” circumstances.

Long graduated from high school in Guntersville one day and the next day he was with Uncle Sam.

“I served with the Army 19 months overseas and, when I came home, I wanted to go to college to be a lawyer,” he said.

But, when he got to Jacksonville State, he changed his mind. He decided to be a band director.

It was that change of plans that directed Long to Oneonta, Alabama, where Long accepted a job as director of the high school band. One senior member of the color guard caught his eye. Her name was Mary Lynn.

Long laughingly said that in 1949, nothing was thought about or said about a young male teacher dating a high school senior. But, just to make sure, he approached the principal and the young lady’s mother and made his intentions known.

“It was all right with them if I saw Mary Lynn but we just went to church and to community functions. I didn’t take her off anywhere,” Long said, laughing. “And, too, she had three big brothers.”

When school was out in the spring of that year, the two became Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Long and they began a long and happy life together.

“We didn’t have a long honeymoon,” Mary Lynn said. “John had taken a job at the high school at Fort Payne and he wanted to get back and see what kind of band he was going to have.”

Long liked Oneonta but an $800 increase in salary had been enough to lure him to Fort Payne.

There, Long held down three jobs – at school, at church and with the city recreation department.

“The town had a semi-pro baseball team and we had to lock up the stadium after games,” Mary Lynn said, laughing. “We’d have to be out some nights at 1 a.m.”

Long was responsible for the upkeep of the city swimming pool and had the responsibility of the concessions stands at the ballparks.

“Mary Lynn was always right there with me,” he said. “That first summer, we didn’t have a bass drummer for the band so Mary Lynn learned how to play the bass drum and played for band rehearsals.”

Mary Lynn said she was not drummer.

“But the band played mainly marches so I could keep the beat,” she said laughing.

Under Long’s leadership, the Fort Payne high school band rose to prominence. Long’s name was tossed around for many of the top band director positions at high schools across the state. After five years, Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery lured him away.

At Lee High School, Mary Lynn Long continued to support her husband in various ways.

“John always had themes for his halftime shows and I made the costumes,” she said. “If the theme was the Old South, I made costumes for that. If the theme included a harem, I made costume for that. When the band was invited to march at a National Lions Club

Convention is Chicago, because the school was Robert E. Lee, they wore the colors of the Confederacy and I made the ascots and sashes for that.”

Over the 10 years of Long’s tenure at Lee, the band won statewide and national recognition. And Dr. Ralph Adams, chancellor of Troy State College, took notice.

“In 1965, Dr. Adams offered me the position of band director and I really wasn’t interested and told him so,” Long said. “He asked me what it would take for me to come to Troy and I told him. I didn’t think that he’d approve it. He did. He made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse – a full professor, scholarships, a budget – everything we needed to build a first-class band program.”

Long accepted the job without talking to his wife.

Carl Stevens, who was a good friend of the Longs, worked for a television station in Montgomery.

He called Mary Lynn to ask about the breaking news and realized that she was not aware that her husband, who was in Troy, and had accepted the position as band director at the college.

“Carl told me that John was going to the new band director at Troy State College,” she said. “He told me that he was going to announce it on the 10 o’clock news. ‘So listen.’”

When Long got home that night, he told his wife, “I’ve got some news.”

“I told him that I’d heard,” Mary Lynn said, laughing.

Long’s first band at Troy State College had 13 returning members and the future didn’t look so promising.

“But, you’ve got to remember that there were only 35 members in the band at that time so 13 wasn’t all that bad,” Long said. “That year, the number of band members got up to 75.”

However, there was reason for doubt the first couple of years Long was at Troy State.

“I thought that I made a mistake but coming to Troy was the best thing that I have ever done,” he said.

“I’ve been fortunate to work for Dr. Adams and Dr. Jack Hawkins. They always supported me and the band program at the university. They are men with tremendous abilities and they are visionaries. They are innovators and they are do-ers. When they plan something, they make it happen. They are two of the greatest men that I have ever known.”

And, the greatest woman, Mary Lynn, has always been behind Long in a supporting role, whether it was playing bass drum at a high school band practice, being the “roadie” for the community band, preparing food for guest band conductors or hosting a banquet at a Band Masters Hall of Fame Ceremony Induction Ceremony.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better person at my side,” Long said. “Without Mary Lynn, I would have been zero. She deserved to be recognized for all that she had done for me and for band music. I was honored to be with her on that Star Spangled Night.”