North Jackson businessman, leader Leland Speed dies

Leland Speed passes away after battling ALS.
Leland Speed passes away after battling ALS.(Mississippi College Beacon)
Updated: Jan. 27, 2021 at 2:56 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A quiet, but strong leader who worked to make Jackson a better place has passed away.

On Wednesday, North Jackson businessman and celebrated community leader Leland Speed died at the University of Mississippi Medical Center after a year-long battle with ALS.

“It’s hard to define everything that he was,” said son Warren Speed. “He loved the city and the state and he saw it as his responsibility to serve the city and the state.

“I am thankful he’s my dad.”

Speed was admitted to the hospital Monday to have a feeding tube inserted. His condition worsened and by Tuesday, he was unresponsive, Warren said.

“It was quicker than we were expecting, but he didn’t suffer,” he said, adding that Leland was still making plans for the future.

Speed served his community throughout his life, including a stint as executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority under Gov. Haley Barbour and as a representative on the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District board, where he was a major proponent of the Two Lakes project.

“He gave up the CEO position at two companies to accept my request (to be) the head of the Mississippi Development Authority, which he did for a dollar a year,” Barbour said. “The only reason he took a dollar is because he had to get something to be eligible for state employee health insurance.”

Barbour remembers Speed as a “civic-minded, enlightened and far-sighted person that I was really lucky to get as the leader at MDA.

“Leland was the guy who had a vision about what Mississippi could be,” the former governor said. “He tried to help smaller towns learn how they could be successful in economic development. One of his principal focuses (was) how to teach towns of 15,000 or less that they could attract industries too.”

Other leaders have also paid tribute. The Jackson City Council opened its Ad-Hoc Law Enforcement Committee meeting today in honor of Speed.

Sen. Roger Wicker issued a statement saying that he and his wife Gayle mourned the loss of their longtime friend and “one of our state’s preeminent citizens.”

Said Wicker, “As a leader in business and government, he demonstrated the highest commitment to civic duty and the advancement of our state and country. His advocacy for the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) was the inspiration for the JROTC Act, which has expanded opportunity for thousands of young Americans. This is just one example of Leland’s impact. His enduring influence on the lives of Mississippians will be hard to measure. He leaves a wonderful legacy for his family and his many friends.”

Speed was a major impetus behind grassroots initiatives, as well, including the creation of the LeFleur East Neighborhood Foundation. He galvanized home and business owners in the area to form the group, saying the best way to fight crime was through flowers and neighborhood beautification.

Today, that group serves numerous neighborhoods in Northeast Jackson and has been involved in numerous projects, including one to beautify Exit 100 along the interstate.

He’s also being remembered as a loving family man who instilled that same spirit of service in his children.

“He told me, ‘I wouldn’t have traded my life for anybody I know or anybody I have ever heard of,’” Warren said. “I am so grateful to be his son.”

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