Saturday, February 4, 2023

Tribute to Larry Speakes Scheduled at Overby Center

The life and career of Larry Speakes, who rose from student journalist at Ole Miss to become White House spokesman for President Ronald Reagan, will be recalled by several of his friends in a special discussion at 2 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics on the Ole Miss campus.

Larry Speaks in 1976
Larry Speakes in 1976

“Remembering Larry Speakes” will be the first program of the spring semester at the Overby Center, a schedule that will include a debate over controversial provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which were struck down last year by the U.S. Supreme Court; a discussion of the work of Donna Ladd’s alternative media in Jackson; a review of a photographic essay, “Jewels of the Delta,” by Alysia Steele; and a recollection of “Freedom Summer” on the 50th anniversary of the epic mission by student civil rights volunteers who came to Mississippi from across the country.
All Overby Center programs are open to the public and free.
The tribute to Speakes, who died last month after a long illness, will be moderated by Charles Overby, chairman of the center. Speakes’ close friend Ed Meek of Oxford will be joined on the panel by others who will talk of his years in Mississippi and Washington.
Speakes spent his childhood in the Delta town of Merigold. After studying journalism at Ole Miss and working on the student newspaper, which was called The Mississippian in the years before it became a daily, Speakes returned to the Delta and a newspaper job in Cleveland. He became press secretary for Sen. James O. Eastland, moving to Washington in 1968 and later joined national Republican political staffs as a press aide. He was named assistant press secretary to President Gerald Ford in 1974.
Following Reagan’s election in 1980, Speakes was named deputy press secretary at the White House. Within three months of taking office, Reagan was wounded in an assassination attempt and his press secretary, Jim Brady, was gravely injured. Speakes became the full-time spokesman for the White House and served in that role for several years, though he was never named press secretary out of deference to the disabled Brady.
In 1987, Speakes was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by Reagan.
After leaving the White House, Speakes wrote a memoir, “Speaking Out,” and eventually moved back to the Mississippi Delta.
He was 74 when he died on Jan. 10 after a long illness.
Larry Speakes program flyer 2
Spokesman Speakes and President Reagan in 1984
Spokesman Speakes and President Reagan in 1984 /Photo courtesy of the LA Times

Larry Speaks, 1959. /Photo by Ed Meek
Larry Speakes, 1959. /Photo by Ed Meek

Speakes was the Associate Editor of the Daily Mississippian.
Speakes was the Associate Editor of the Daily Mississippian.