|Acting White House Press Secretary|
March 30, 1981 – February 1, 1987
|Preceded by||James Brady|
|Succeeded by||Marlin Fitzwater (acting)|
Larry Melvin Speakes
September 13, 1939
Cleveland, Mississippi, U.S.
|Died||January 10, 2014 (aged 74)|
Cleveland, Mississippi, U.S.
|Political party||Democratic (before 1974)|
|Education||University of Mississippi (BA)|
He was born in northwestern Mississippi in 1939 and attended the University of Mississippi. He worked as a journalist in the 1960s until he became the press secretary of Democratic Senator James Eastland in 1968. In this position he also worked as the spokesman for the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
In 1974, he became a Staff Assistant for President Richard Nixon 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 Gerald 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.
Speakes the worked for the international public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton until 1981. After Press Secretary James Brady was shot in the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, Speakes began hosting the daily press briefings for Reagan.
Speakes died in 2014.
Speakes was born in Cleveland in northwestern Mississippi, which had the nearest hospital to his parents' 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.
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.
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." Speakes has received criticism over the years for his public missives of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which first became present in the United States during his tenure at the White House.
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.
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", 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" 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", 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." Speakes left a job at Merrill Lynch which he had held for a short time as a result of the controversy.
Speakes became 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 homophobic jokes, laughter, and disinterest; responses that have been largely pointed to as symbols of the Reagan administration's slow response to the disease.
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 a 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.