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Larry Speakes photographed in 1976
|Born||Larry Melvin Speakes
September 13, 1939
|Died||January 10, 2014
|North Cleveland Cemetery|
|Other names||Larry M. Speakes|
|Occupation||Former White House press spokesman|
Sondra Lanell "Sandy" Speakes Huerta
|Parents||Harry Earl and Ethlyn Frances Speakes|
Speakes was born in Cleveland in northwestern Mississippi, which had the nearest hospital to his parent's middle-class home in Merigold in Bolivar County. His father, Harry Earl Speakes, was a banker. His mother was the former Ethlyn Frances Fincher.
Speakes received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Mississippi in Oxford. He served as editor of the Oxford Eagle' in 1961, and thereafter as managing editor of the Bolivar Commercial in Cleveland from 1962 to 1966. From 1966 to 1968, he worked as general manager and editor of Progress Publishers of Leland, Mississippi.
Senate press secretary
Speakes headed to Washington, D.C. in 1968, serving as press secretary to Democratic Senator James Eastland of Mississippi. In this capacity, he worked as spokesman for the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary and a coordinator of the senator's reelection campaign in 1972 against the Republican Gil Carmichael.
Work in the White House
The White House tapped Speakes in 1974 as a Staff Assistant and soon became the Press Secretary to the Special Counsel to the President at the height of the Watergate scandal. Upon Nixon's resignation, President Ford appointed Speakes to be Assistant Press Secretary to the President. Speakes served as Bob Dole's press secretary during his unsuccessful vice-presidential run with Ford.
After briefly serving as President Ford's personal press secretary in 1977, Speakes ventured into the private sector as vice president of the international public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton until 1981. After the 1980 presidential campaign, he worked on the staff of the Reagan-Bush team, helping to "straighten out" the press operation, eventually becoming deputy spokesman for the President-elect during the transition. Before the election, Speakes had considered working for the campaigns of George H. W. Bush, Jack Kemp, and Alexander Haig; however, Bush's people never got back to him, Speakes decided that Kemp was "too hot" (meaning too quick with an answer) for television, and was advised by another Washington insider, "You can do that [join the Haig team] if you want to, but let me tell you one thing: Al Haig ain't going to be President."
When James Brady was shot in the assassination attempt on President Reagan on March 30, 1981, he was unable to return to work, though he retained the title of "Press Secretary" for the duration of Reagan's term. In Brady's absence, Speakes took over the job of handling the daily press briefings.
On June 17, 1981, Speakes was appointed "Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary."
On August 5, 1983, Speakes was appointed "Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy Press Secretary," and remained in that post until January 1987, when he resigned and Marlin Fitzwater took over the role.
On January 30, 1987, he was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Reagan.
His 1988 memoir Speaking Out claims that Speakes twice attributed statements to Reagan that the president had never uttered but was told about afterwards. Reagan denied the claim, which encountered negativity toward Speakes from other members of the administration. Speakes left a job at Merrill Lynch which he had held for a short time as a result of the controversy but maintained that the story was indeed accurate.
Speakes has been criticized for remarks he made on 15 October 1982 about AIDS during a White House press briefing in which he had this exchange with reporters:
Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement—the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases? MR. SPEAKES: What’s AIDS? Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it? MR. SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.) Q: No, I don’t. MR. SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question. Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President— MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.) Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke? MR. SPEAKES: No, I don't know anything about it, Lester. Q: Does the President, does anybody in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry? MR. SPEAKES: I don't think so. I don't think there’s been any— Q: Nobody knows? MR. SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester. Q: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping— MR. SPEAKES: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he’s had no—(laughter)—no patients suffering from AIDS or whatever it is. Q: The President doesn’t have gay plague, is that what you're saying or what? MR. SPEAKES: No, I didn’t say that. Q: Didn’t say that? MR. SPEAKES: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn’t you stay there? (Laughter.) Q: Because I love you, Larry, that’s why. (Laughter.) MR. SPEAKES: Oh, I see. Just don’t put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.) Q: Oh, I retract that. MR. SPEAKES: I hope so.
Speakes was married to the former Laura Christine Crawford (born 1945), whom he met in high school. Long ago divorced, she resides in Oxford, Mississippi. They had three children.
Speakes was also married to the former Betty J. Robinson and in 2001 Aleta Sindelar, a registered nurse from Bethesda, Maryland, who claims that Speakes gave her control of his $1 million estate, an issue that has pitted her in legal dispute with Speakes' children. Ultimately, the Mississippi courts sided with Speakes' daughter and oldest child, Sondra "Sandy" Lanell Speakes Huerta of Cleveland, Mississippi. Sindelar's visitation with her husband was restricted. The Speakes' children said that Sindelar had deserted Larry and left him to care for himself in a condominium in Arlington, Virginia.
Speakes died in Cleveland, Mississippi, on January 10, 2014, at the age of seventy-four, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. His body was interred a few hours after his death at North Cleveland Cemetery.
- Sam Donaldson: Hold On, Mr. President! (New York: Random House, 1987) ISBN 0-394-55393-4
- Larry Speakes: Speaking Out (New York: Avon Books, 1989) paperback ISBN 978-0380707263
- "Betty J. Robinson". usgennet.org. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
- Michael D. Shear (January 10, 2014) Larry Speakes, Public Face of Reagan Era, Dies at 74 New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2014
- Eilperin, Juliette (December 4, 2013) "How attitudes toward AIDS have changed, in the White House and beyond." Washington Post. (Retrieved 7-7-2014.)
- "The Speakes Family Battle Goes South, July 17, 2009". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
- "Jerry Mitchell, "Speakes' estate ruling disputed Mississippi native's daughter given control; wife appeals," December 6, 2009". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
- Former Reagan Spokesman Larry Speakes Dies at 74 - ABC News
- Announcement on Speakes receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal
- The Presidency Project - Appointment of Larry M. Speakes as Deputy Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy Press Secretary to the President, June 17, 1981
|White House Press Secretary
(acting press secretary; position still officially held by James Brady)
1981 – 1987