Native had a storied life, career

Published 9:15pm Thursday, November 29, 2012

Successful businessman and CEO of Illinois Tool Works passed away on Saturday, Nov. 17 in Chicago after losing a battle with cancer. And while Speer’s face graced the inside of every major newspaper in the U.S. like The Wall Street Journal and the cover of the Chicago Sun Times, the world discovered when Speer passed that he was the same person as a 61-year-old CEO of a Fortune 200 company as he was a young boy in Selma, Ala.

Once Speer’s family moved to Selma in the 1950’s for his father’s work as a metallurgical engineer, Speer attended junior and senior high school in Selma. He grew up on Crestwood Court.

“I and another classmate, Ann Fuller, from Parrish High School were talking about one thing we noticed with all the things people were saying about David in the last few weeks,” Kincey Green of Selma said. “Ann said the things that are being written today about David in Chicago are the same David we knew. His success, his philanthropy and charitable work was the David we knew he never changed.”

Though Speer moved away to Chicago when he was 16 in 1967, his legacy remains in Selma to those who attended school with him and those who were friends of the family according to Green.

While in high school Speer was in many clubs of which he was president or vice president and Green said he was highly involved. Today his legacy in Chicago remains one of someone who gave their time endlessly to charities as he was on the board for United Way Chicago, the American Cancer Society, the Chicago Symphony and many more.

“David was incredibly successful and there is so much corporate corruption today and David was such a pillar of integrity a bastion of just impeccable character and he had that in his younger years and he had that up until the day he died,” Green said.   “I have lived this town all my life and I don’t know anyone who has succeeded as David did just to rise up through the ranks of a huge corporation with billions of dollars in sales.”

The Chicago Tribune wrote about how Speer was a salesman as a child. He went door-to-door selling Christmas Cards at the age 11 in order to get a bike, the family told the Tribune. Speer stepped down in October from his job as his condition and battle with cancer worsened. Speer is the son of Dick and May Speer and the brother to six siblings — Diana, Rich, Debbie, Daphne, Deedee and Dean. Speer had two children, Sarah and Blake. He had one grandchild named River.

He studied at Vanderbilt University and then later graduated from Iowa State University in Ames and graduated with bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. He later received his master’s degree from Northwestern University in 1977. Speer began working for ITW in Chicago as a marketing manager and became CEO in 2005.

For the Parish High School 20th reunion in 1989 all students were asked to write a small biography about themselves. Speer wrote about why Alabama meant a lot to him still after many years of being in Chicago, and said, “I have some very fond memories of my years in Selma and of all the wonderful friends and classmates.”

“I’m still a great Alabama football fan and probably the only subscriber in Chicago to the Bama Magazine,” Speer wrote. “I can’t wait until Alabama gets another crack at beating Notre Dame, I’ve taken a lot of grief over those games.

If you heard me talk today you’d say I was a “Yankee,” but my heart is still southern through and through.”

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