Joel Wood, a University of Mississippi graduate and prominent Washington, D.C., businessman and lobbyist, has committed a generous gift to the Overby Center Speakers Series to pay tribute to the late Larry Speakes, former spokesperson for a U.S. president.
Wood's contribution coincided with a recent tribute to Speakes at the university's Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics. Speakes, a journalism student at Ole Miss in the late 1950s, became the White House spokesman for President Ronald Reagan in 1981. After a long illness, Speakes died Jan. 10 at the age of 74.
Wood became acquainted with Speakes when he was at the White House while Wood served on a congressional staff in the early 1980s. “He was obviously an inspiration, but mostly I remember him as being utterly unpretentious, soft-spoken and humble," said Wood. “He was extremely generous with his time to all of us from Ole Miss. I'm grateful the university is honoring him and hope that others continue to find inspiration in his career and life."
The Overby Center Speaker Series Endowment is designed to support programs which have brought hundreds of well-known public figures and journalists to the Oxford campus since the center opened in 2007.
“Joel is a great friend of journalism at Ole Miss," said Charles Overby, chairman of the center. “His gift will help further the legacy of Larry Speakes."
Wood was himself one of three Ole Miss graduates who returned to the campus in 2012 to appear on an Overby Center panel discussion involving the role of lobbyists in Washington.
He is senior vice president of governmental affairs for the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, a position he has held for more than 20 years. He has been named one of the top trade association lobbyists in Washington by The Hill, a widely-read newspaper on Capitol Hill.
Prior to joining the council, Wood spent four years as assistant vice president for government affairs for the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents and served for six years on the staff of Rep. Don Sundquist, a Tennessee Republican.
In 1988, Wood and two others founded Red Hot & Blue, a Memphis-style barbecue restaurant in the Washington area that has grown to 42 locations in 19 states. In 2002, Wood and his wife, Dana, created the Foundation to Eradicate Duchenne, providing treatment for a form of muscular dystrophy that strikes children.
Wood graduated from Ole Miss in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. His gift is one of the first to support the Overby Center Speakers Series Endowment that was established last year.
Now completing its seventh year of programs at the Ole Miss, the Overby Center has compiled a guest list that includes former governors Haley Barbour and William Winter, U.S. senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee and numerous state legislators; television anchors Tom Brokaw of NBC, Shepard Smith of Fox News, Susan Spencer of CBS and Judy Woodruff of PBS; newspaper editors Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, and Pulitzer Prize winners Hank Klibanoff, Howell Raines and Cynthia Tucker; as well as civil rights leaders Myrlie Evers-Williams, Lawrence Guyot and Leslie McLemore.
Individuals and organizations can provide support to the Overby Center Speakers Series Endowment or memorial gifts to honor Larry Speakes' life by sending a check with either noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655; contacting John Festervand, development officer for the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at 662-915-1757 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or visiting www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.