Sara Lee Speights
September 30, 1944 to February 17, 2021
Sara Speights was generous, talented, funny, vivacious and beloved by legions of friends. She was the first to offer help or solace with practical advice, a warm bowl of vegetable beef soup, a sympathetic ear, or a story, even before it was called for. A bright light in many worlds, she died of a massive stroke.
She was born in Corpus Christi into a loving family, parents Ralph Speights (b.1906, Monticello, Miss; d. 1998, San Antonio, Tx.) and Mary West Speights (b. 1914 Lufkin, Tx; d. 1996, Houston, Tx) , elder brother Jim and younger sister Suzanne (b. 1948, Houston, Tx.; d. 2017, West Hartford, Ct.). Sara was a champion swimmer, enthusiastic child dancer at the Alley Theatre, reluctant junior high school cheerleader and incisive debater at Bellaire High School. She was never quite sure how she was elected Governor of Texas Girls' State but her contemporaries had already recognized her people skills.
At The University of Texas (there was only one then, in Austin), Sara became a journalism major because she heard there were scholarships available. She covered everything from the Kennedy Assassination to local theater productions. She accompanied Dr. William Goetzman and his family to Cambridge, England, to be a student and a nanny. When Prince Charles was scheduled to arrive for college, she hung her Daily Texan press card around her neck and went to watch. She got up so close that when the prince drove his MG up to the crowd, the Time Magazine photographer behind Sara shoved his telephoto lens into her neck and Sara and her umbrella fell into the prince, knocking him to the ground, whereupon she cussed a blue streak. The prince picked himself up, helped her up and said, "You must be Australian!"
After graduation, Sara married and worked for The Austin American-Statesman, quickly becoming city hall reporter. Women were not expected to continue working during the last months of pregnancy, but she persisted, almost until her beloved only child Dylan Lee Howze was born in March 1971. She moved to Colorado with her husband but the marriage didn't work out and soon she was back in Austin, a single mother with a. rumble, tumble toddler.
Sara decided she needed work with more stable hours than journalism, and launched a career in politics, first working for then Rep. Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, then Rep. Jim Mattox of Dallas. Mattox made her the first director of the House Study Group, later renamed the House Research Organization. It provided unbiased research of House legislation and was much admired. Next she was chief aide to Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong. The next move was to Gov. Mark White's Office, working primarily in press relations and education.
Sara later was a lobbyist for home health care and nursing home companies, where she mastered a new arcane field and made her way through the increasingly treacherous and balkanized shoals of D.C. politics. It was not a fun time, but she was always buoyed by her countless friends. There were Armstrong campouts, canoe trips with Ann and Dave Richards, cooking with her close friend Molly Ivins, membership in two book clubs, many visits to Port Aranzas with Dylan and David and Lynn Jacob and their children, walking her dogs. She traveled to South America, India, China and Europe.
She rounded out her career with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Upon retirement, Sara turned her lobbying skills to neighborhood pursuits. She was a forceful, articulate, patient advocate for preserving the residential character of Central Austin neighborhoods, heading the Bull Creek Coalition, which tried to reduce the scope of the massive Grove project art 45th Street and Shoal Creek.
This past year she put her organizational skills into collecting food donations in several neighborhoods.
Sara is survived by her son Dylan Howze of Austin, her brother Jim Speights of San Antonio, her step-daughter Lynn Jacob and husband David Jacob of San Antonio and their sons Alexander and Stephen and by her nephew Jason Speights and wife Laura of San Antonio and their daughters Hannah and Kate.
Because of the pandemic, there will probably not be a memorial gathering until her birthday in September. Memorial contributions can be made to the Austin Humane Society because Sara loved her dogs.
Published in Austin American-Statesman from Mar. 1 to Mar. 2, 2021.