Workers’ Compensation Law | Passing of James Wallace (Wally) Speed

James Wallace (Wally) Speed


It is with profound sadness that I advise you of the passing of James Wallace (Wally) Speed, a legendary attorney in the Workers’ Compensation Section. Our condolences go out to his family and friends. He will be missed by many.

Lee Bennett, Chair
Workers’ Compensation Law Section
State Bar of Georgia

Obituary of James Wallace Speed

9/26/40 to 8/21/2020

James Wallace (“Wally”) Speed was born on September 26, 1940 to Mary Sue (Stubblefield) and Lonnie Lafayette Speed in Florence, Alabama. The family moved to Tennessee during World War II due to his father’s work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where the atomic bomb was developed.

After the war, the family moved to Chattanooga, where Wally was educated in the public school system, graduating from Chattanooga High School in 1958. He attended The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, for one year before receiving a competitive appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from which he graduated in 1963.

He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant upon graduation, and he selected the Infantry Branch. He trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he completed the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Airborne School, and Ranger School.

His first duty assignment was with the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, where he served as an infantry platoon commander in the 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry. He completed a Vietnamese Language course and then received a temporary duty assignment (“TDY”) to Vietnam, where he worked with various Vietnamese Army units. He was the first member of his West Point class to be assigned to Vietnam in any capacity, since, at that time, only ranks of First Lieutenant and higher were being assigned to Vietnam. Upon his return to the Division in Hawaii, he earned the coveted Expert Infantryman Badge and was reassigned to the elite 173rd Airborne Brigade, which had recently deployed to Vietnam.

In the 173rd, Wally was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry (“The Rock”), which was the same unit in which his uncle had served in WWII. For valor in combat while commanding the Recon Platoon, he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal w/”V” (for valor), and he received two Purple Heart Medals for combat wounds, as well as the Combat Infantryman Badge. He was selected to serve as the Aide de Camp to the Commanding General of the HQ Area Command, and he served in that capacity until he was reassigned back to the 173rd Airborne Brigade to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry as the S2 (Intelligence) and S5 (Civil Affairs) Staff Officer. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in Vietnam as well as the Presidential Unit Citation.

In 1967, Captain Speed was assigned to HQ, Sixth U.S. Army with duty station at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho as the Army Air Reconnaissance Liaison Officer to the 67th Tactical Recon Wing. He logged over 100 hours in non-crew flight time in the Air Force RF-4 Phantom supersonic jet fighter and in the T-33 jet trainer while coordinating field training exercises. After a year with the Air Force, he was reassigned to another tour of duty in Vietnam.

In February, 1968 Captain Speed joined the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) just as the Tet Offensive of 1968 was winding down, and he was assigned to the G3 staff as an operations officer in the Division Tactical Operations Center, where he participated in Operation Pegasus, which was the relief of the besieged marines at Khe Sanh. After six months on the Division Staff, he was assigned to command D Company, 1st Bn, 12th Cav, and his rifle company conducted combat operations for the remainder of his tour of duty in Vietnam. He was awarded a second Bronze Star Meal w/”V” for valor and the
Air Medal for meritorious service aboard aircraft during combat operations.

Wally completed a third tour of duty in Vietnam, then married Janet Reeves of Chattanooga. They had a daughter, Kimberly Jan Speed.

Wally took an extended leave of absence from the army to attend law school, having taken the LSAT admissions test while in combat in Vietnam and been accepted to Emory University School of Law. He continued Army service as an active member of the Army Reserve, retiring as a full colonel in 1993 after 30 years of service.

Upon graduation from law school in 1972, Wally accepted a job with the University of Georgia Office of Legal Aid with LTC (ret.) Robert Peckham, a former professor of law at West Point. The following year, he was hired as an assistant district attorney for the Atlanta Judicial Circuit, in which capacity he served for 11 years, attaining the status of Senior Trial Attorney. He tried over 250 felony jury cases in the Superior Court of Fulton County and was selected to serve on the prosecution team for the trial in the “Atlanta Missing and Murdered Children” case which attracted international media attention.

In 1984, Wally was appointed by Governor Busbee as Administrative Law Judge with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation, where he adjudicated disputed workers’ compensation claims. He resigned from that position in 1987 to go into private practice in Atlanta, and in 2001 he and Lesli Seta formed their own firm, Speed & Seta, LLC. The firm grew and became Speed, Seta, Martin, Trivett & Stubley, a regional firm handling civil litigation throughout the southeast United States.

Wally lived life to the fullest and savored the simple pleasures – a fresh cup of coffee, a hot dog, a good book. He enjoyed a tasty meal, whether home cooked or out. On special occasions, he loved to celebrate at Bones or La Grotta. His hobbies included photography, travel, and hiking, especially in the Canadian Rockies. That was his happy place. But, his greatest happiness of all came from the love and the pride that he felt for his family. His eyes lit up when he spoke of his grandchildren – Alaska, with her budding artistic flair, and Kameron, with his hard work and talent on the drums. They were his joy and his hope for the future.

Janet Reeves Speed, his wife of 41 years, predeceased him in 2010. Also predeceasing him in death were his sister, Nancy Speed Schutz and his niece Karen Schutz. He is survived by his daughter Kimberly Speed Atkins, two grandchildren, Alaska Jan Atkins and Kameron Samuel Atkins, son-in-law, Keith Atkins, niece, Kristin Schutz, his dog, Jake, and his law partner, Lesli Seta, her family – husband, Marco Seta, children, Francesca Seta Whalen (Brendan), Nola Seta Herlihy (Derry), Joseph Marco Seta, Stefano Joseph Seta, Gianluca Marini Seta, and grandchildren, Finn Brendan Whalen, Liam Maxson Whalen, and Siena Katherine Herlihy, all of whom loved Wally dearly.

COL (ret) Speed will be buried at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

In memory of Wally, donations would be gratefully accepted for Frankie And Andy’s Place, a shelter for senior dogs where the dogs also serve as therapy for humans with special needs. This charity was selected in honor of Jake, Wally’s 15 year old schnauzer, who was fiercely devoted to Wally and provided constant companionship and support throughout Wally’s battle with glioblastoma. Jake will continue to be loved and cared for by the Atkins and Seta families, but there are many senior dogs who are not as fortunate as Jake. Donations to Frankie and Andy’s place will ensure that they too receive the love and care that they deserve. Donations can be mailed to Gwinnett Animal Hospital, 2184 McGee Rd. SW, Snellville, GA 30078 with a note designating the donation for Frankie and Andy’s Place in memory of Wally Speed. Checks should be made payable to Gwinnett Animal Hospital. Alternatively, donations can be made by calling Gwinnett Animal Hospital at (770) 972-0447. (Thank you!)

Finally, the Atkins and Seta families would like to thank all the people who provided assistance and support throughout the last several months. Those dear friends specifically include but are not limited to the Legner family, Jane Eikenberry, Jones Webb, Lisa Martin, Michelle and Sean Johnson, Bill Jamieson, Pastor Jim Cantrell, Silvia Infante, Mavis Dobbs, Elvyn Sanchez, Eric and Carrie Trivett, Seth Martin, Barbara Batho, Brenda Lawson, the Speed & Seta Firm family, the USMA West Point community of friends, and Dr. Adam Leaderman, Wally’s physician and dear friend for the past 25+ years, who provided constant care and support throughout Wally’s illness, and sometimes called on Face Time just to say, “You doin’ alright today? I love you, Man.”