Ed Speaker: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

In the 1940s and 1950s, no one had their finger on the pulse of Conway better than Ed Speaker (1905-1984). Speaker owned Southern Realty, one of the main real estate and insurance firms in Conway and was very involved in state and local politics. As a result, he knew a lot of people and was well known by many.

Richard Edwin Speaker’s parents were Charles and Virgie Speaker. Charles was an inspector for the revenue department as well as a grocery and meat market operator. After Charles passed away in 1946, Virgie married Rev. J.S. Rogers, former president of the Arkansas State Baptist Convention and Central Baptist College.

In 1922, Charles moved his family to a 40-acre farm seven miles east of Conway. Ed attended Conway High School, lettering in football in 1923 and 1924. He worked at Goad’s Café, on the corner of Oak and Parkway during this time. In 1925, he received his high school certificate from Hendrix Academy.

Ed then attended Hendrix College, playing football for Coach Ivan Grove. In April, 1925, he opened up a shoe shine parlor in the Conway Theater building to help finance his education. His grand opening included an eight-piece orchestra. Ladies shoes were shined free that night and there was a drawing for a box of candy and two shine tickets.

In February, 1927, Ed married Clara Mae Markham. They had dated while at Hendrix but she moved to Booneville to teach when she graduated in 1926. Chester Markham, Clara’s father, worked for years at Frauenthal and Schwarz before he and his wife, Mary, opened up a grocery and feed store on Oak Street. Mary continued to operate the store after his death in 1938.

Ed and Clara Mae had three girls—Barbara (Wilkins), Jenny (Oliver) and Helen (Benafield). The family lived on Mitchell Street for years but in 1947, they moved to a home which was then three miles south of Conway on Highway 65. Later Ed bought land south of Donaghey Avenue on what would be known as Civil Defense Hill. Family members still reside there today on Ed Speaker Lane.

During the Depression Speaker got involved in politics. In June, 1938, Speaker was elected to his first political office. Jason Summers, who served as Faulkner County Sheriff from 1923 to 1930 and again from 1935 to 1938, decided not to run again. The deputy sheriff, O.L. Clanton, had wished to run but failed to get his name on the ballot in time so Ed ran unopposed for the sheriff’s position and won.

Speaker served as sheriff until January, 1941 when Governor Homer Atkins named him director of the State Industrial Board. He had become friends with Atkins while serving as a deputy collector for the Internal Revenue Department in the 1930s. Atkins also worked there. Although Speaker’s official job was State Industrial Board director, unofficially he served as Atkins’ secretary, handling patronage and finding jobs for Atkins’ faithful supporters. Many got jobs with state agencies through his efforts.

In the 1940s, Speaker bought Southern Realty from H.W. Montgomery. Montgomery kept the insurance side of the business but Speaker continued to sell life and fire insurance along with selling and financing real estate. As the main residential housing realtor in Conway, he helped many residents buy or sell their houses.

Speaker was also known for assisting area residents in other ways. He helped many find work and even loaned them money until they got on their feet. He assisted those who needed help in dealing with state and local government agencies. He kept a prayer list on a legal pad at his desk, praying for the needs of those around him. At First Baptist Church, he served as a deacon and Sunday School teacher.

In the 1940s, Speaker continued to be actively involved in state and local politics although he didn’t hold another elected position. In 1947, Speaker was chosen to lead the fundraising campaign to build Lake Conway. $31,000 had to be raised locally to purchase the 6,300 acres to be inundated by the new lake.

Speaker became the Faulkner County Sheriff again in 1951 when Gov. Sid McMath appointed him to complete the two-year term of Sheriff Jack Castleberry who had passed away. In 1956, he served as a delegate-at-large to the Democratic National Convention. He also assisted in the campaigns for many state and local offices because he knew and was known by so many.

Ed Speaker deeply cared for and served the people in his community. He is another great example of the distinguished leadership that helped develop Faulkner County and its people.

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