Larry Speakes

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Larry Speakes
Portraits of Assistants to President Ronald Reagan (cropped5).jpg
Acting White House Press Secretary
In office
March 30, 1981 – February 1, 1987
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by James Brady
Succeeded by Marlin Fitzwater (acting)
Personal details
Born Larry Melvin Speakes
(1939-09-13)September 13, 1939
Cleveland, Mississippi, U.S.
Died January 10, 2014(2014-01-10) (aged 74)
Cleveland, Mississippi, U.S.
Political party Democratic (before 1974)
Republican (1974–2014)
Spouse(s) Laura Crawford
Betty Robinson
Aleta Sindelar
Children 3
Education University of Mississippi (BA)

Larry Melvin Speakes (September 13, 1939 – January 10, 2014) was the acting White House Press Secretary for the White House under President Ronald Reagan, having held the position from 1981 to 1987.

Early life[edit]

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.[1]

Early career[edit]

Mississippi newspaperman[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

Speakes in 1976

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 1988 presidential 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."

Presidential spokesman[edit]

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 presidency. 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.

Speakes wrote in his 1988 memoir Speaking Out that he twice invented statements himself and attributed them to President Reagan. These statements included ones after the KAL 007 shootdown in 1983 and during the Geneva Summit of 1985. Speakes thought that Gorbachev's remarks at the summit had been highly quotable while Reagan's were "disappointingly lackluster",[2] so he asked his aides to make up some quotes, polished them himself, then issued them to the press as President Reagan's statements. Speakes' revelations, something of a side note in the book, touched off a minor controversy; reporters were annoyed at having been fooled, and Marlin Fitzwater, Speakes's successor, called it a "damn outrage"[2] and complained that they unfairly called into question the veracity of other presidential statements. Speakes said "I was representing his thought if not his words",[2] but also apologized to Reagan, saying he had "provided fodder for those who would aim the cannons of criticism at the President I served loyally for 6 years."[2] Speakes left a job at Merrill Lynch which he had held for a short time as a result of the controversy.[1]

In recent years, Speakes has become a target of controversy surrounding the Reagan administration's handling of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. During press briefings over the course of several years, reporter Lester Kinsolving asked Speakes what response, if any, the administration had to the developing crisis. On most of these occasions, Speakes and the White House press corps responded with then stereotypical jokes and laughter; responses that have been largely pointed to as symbols of the Reagan administration's slow response to the disease.[3]

Personal life[edit]

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.[1]

Speakes was also married to the former Betty J. Robinson[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]


Speakes died in Cleveland, Mississippi, on January 10, 2014, at the age of 74, of Alzheimer's disease. His body was interred a few hours after his death at North Cleveland Cemetery.[1][7]



  1. ^ a b c d Michael D. Shear (January 10, 2014) Larry Speakes, Public Face of Reagan Era, Dies at 74 New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2014
  2. ^ a b c d Boller, Jr., Paul F.; George, John (1989). They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505541-1. 
  3. ^ Lawson, Richard. "The Reagan Administration's Unearthed Response to the AIDS Crisis Is Chilling". The Hive. Retrieved 2017-03-13. 
  4. ^ "Betty J. Robinson". Retrieved January 11, 2014. 
  5. ^ "The Speakes Family Battle Goes South, July 17, 2009". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 11, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Jerry Mitchell, "Speakes' estate ruling disputed Mississippi native's daughter given control; wife appeals," December 6, 2009". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved January 11, 2014. 
  7. ^ Former Reagan Spokesman Larry Speakes Dies at 74 - ABC News

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
James Brady
White House Press Secretary

Succeeded by
Marlin Fitzwater