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LBJ speechwriter Robert Hardesty dies

Robert L. Hardesty, center, and two other aides

Robert L. Hardesty, center, and two other aides talk with President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office. Hardesty, a speechwriter for Johnson who also shaped the president's legacy by assisting with his White House memoir, died July 8, 2013. He was 82. Newsday's obituary for Robert L. Hardesty
Credit: Handout

Robert Hardesty, a speechwriter for Lyndon B. Johnson who also shaped the president's legacy by assisting with his White House memoir, died July 8 in Austin, Texas. He was 82.

His death, from congestive heart failure, was announced by the LBJ Presidential Library.

Hardesty pursued a wide-ranging career, including stints as press secretary to then-Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe, president of what is now Texas State University and chairman of the U.S. Postal Service's board of governors. But he was perhaps best known as an aide to Johnson from 1965 until shortly before Johnson's death in 1973.

Hardesty recalled that, as far as Johnson was concerned, "brevity was the cardinal rule" for speechwriters.

Johnson also demanded that speeches make news. In 1966, with only a few hours of advance notice, Hardesty was assigned to write a speech for Johnson to deliver after being honored for his work on the space program. Johnson objected to the first draft, finding it insufficiently newsy.

After consultation with space officials on the status of the Apollo program, Hardesty added a line: "We intend to land the first man on the surface of the moon and we intend to do it in this decade of the '60s." Hardesty assumed that the president would make sure the line was fully accurate before delivering it.

After the speech, a top space official called Hardesty and complained that he had thrown the space program into disarray. At the end of the day, he ran into Johnson.

"That speech you wrote for me this morning," the president said, according to Robert Schlesinger's book, "White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters," "now that's what I call a news lead."

Neil Armstrong did, in fact, become the first man to walk on the moon, in 1969.

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