By: Shawn Moynihan
“”It’s a great day for the race,”” Ronald L. Speer could often be heard shouting above the din of The Virginian-Pilot newsroom.
His colleagues would reply, “”What race?””
Speer would respond, “”The human race.””
Such exchanges were to be expected from the jovial, award-winning editor and longtime columnist for the Virginian-Pilot, who died Sept. 26 at the age of 72. Speer joined The Ledger-Star (then the Pilot’s afternoon sibling) in 1977 and went on to serve in numerous positions including assistant managing editor, columnist, and writing coach at the Pilot and its various state bureaus. He retired in 1997 as general manager and editor of the North Carolina bureau.
A Nebraska native, Speer got his start as a reporter for the Lincoln Star while attending the University of Nebraska Lincoln in the late 1950s. Upon graduating in 1959, he took a job as a reporter for the Associated Press in Des Moines, Iowa. There, he covered the state’s last hanging and met four U.S. presidents. During his next assignment as Southeastern sports editor for AP in Atlanta, he met two of his heroes: home run king Hank Aaron, and the Rev. Martin Luther King.
After stints as a features writer for the Des Moines Register & Tribune and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Speer returned to Nebraska in 1973 and began interviewing and photographing Native Americans and homesteaders, some of them in their 90s, for a living history project. This labor of love became “”Voices of History,”” a collection of recordings, photos, and original artifacts that he donated in 2003 to the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center at Nebraska’s Chadron State College.