College of Media | Obituaries

John F. Fred Speck Jr. '77 JOURN

Terry Carnes Sowka
5/10/2013  8:00 am

Music lover, baseball fan, attorney and journalist Fred Speck was remembered by nearly 40 former Daily Illini staff members recently at a memorial gathering in Oak Park, Ill. Speck, 57, Daily Illini sports editor/columnist and 1977 journalism graduate, died of a heart attack Dec. 6, 2012, at his home in Chicago. The memorial was held in conjunction with opening day at Wrigley Field, where Speck was a season ticket holder. 


Speck was born July 29, 1955, in Elgin, Ill., and grew up in nearby Barrington. He played varsity basketball while attending Barrington High School. After graduating from Illinois, Speck earned a law degree from DePaul University in Chicago, and was an attorney in private practice for more than 30 years in the Chicago area. 


Fred was a dogged reporter and insightful editor, and, out of the office, was the life of the party. He was opinionated and outgoing, very much his own person, but he was also a lot of fun to be around. I think everyone on the staff considered him a friend, recalled Pat Wingert Kelly (Journalism 1977), Daily Illini editor-in-chief in 1976-77 and former Newsweek reporter in Washington D.C. She also said that Speck had been in touch with her throughout fall 2012 to plan a Daily Illini reunion. This is the reunion Fred wanted to have, she told guests from across the country in April at the home of Sher Watts Spooner (LAS Speech Communications 1976) in Oak Park, Ill. 


Fred helped me practice law, said Diane Marie Amann (Journalism 1979), 1978-79 editor-in-chief and now Emily and Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law at the University of Georgia School of Law. Amann recalled her first-ever appearance in court, while she was still a law student. Speck, already an attorney, happened to be in the courtroom. After calling Amanns case, the judge refused to let her speak without her teacher present, and then proceeded to rule against her client. Afterwards, almost in tears, I turned and bolted toward the doors, Amann said. Fred caught up with me and said, Theyre all assholes, Diane. Its better you learn that sooner rather than later.  


Speck also had a love of music and a huge sense of humor. In 1975, Pat Embry, editorial director at Magellan Press/Local Eats, Nashville, Tenn. (Journalism 1979), applied to The Daily Illini sports department when Speck was sports editor. I go into his office and he's eating a hot fudge sundae, Embry told the Chicago Sun-Times Dave Hoekstra. He goes, You want to write, huh? Name all the Rolling Stones. So I rip off all the names of the Rolling Stones and he says, You're in.  


Alumni at the memorial recalled Specks singing in a northwest suburban band called Moon Helmet and solo outings, in costume, covering Mick Jagger. He enjoyed friends from coast to coast and traveled often to be with them. He loved life, good food and spirits at the Italian Village in Chicago, being a Chicago Cubs fan, reading newspapers and magazines, Winston Churchill, The Andy Griffith Show, the Rolling Stones, Merle Haggard, and country music played in honky-tonks and bars.


Sports Illustrated spotlighted his affection for the Cubs in a 2008 cover piece on the then-contending team. The magazine used his quote on the issues cover: If the Cubs win it all, Ill cry like a baby and laugh like a hyena for a week.


Speck was a four-year staff member of The Daily Illini, and quickly got bylines during his freshman year. As a junior in 1975-76, he served as sports editor. At that time, The Daily Illini was Urbana-Champaigns only morning newspaper, so it enjoyed increased readership outside the university community for news and sports coverage. Speck and his staff covered Illinois athletics with a critical eye, sometimes earning the ire of athletic department officials. 


As a senior, Speck received the John T. Trebilcock Award for investigative reporting. 


Friends from Wrigley Field held a memorial brunch prior to the Cubs home opener on April 8, and a private memorial took place in Barrington, Ill., on April 6. 


Speck was preceded in death by his mother, Ellen Speck, and father John F. Speck Sr. Survivors include older sisters Sarah (Doug McLennan) Speck, Martha (Steve) Brown, and Beth Speck, as well as niece Kate Speck and nephew John Trupin. Barrington Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.