About the Author – John David Bethel

John David Bethel was born May 10, 1947 in Palo Alto, California. He was a speechwriter to Cabinet Secretaries at the Departments of Commerce and Education during the Bush 41 and 43 administrations. He also served as a press secretary and speechwriter to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Additionally, Bethel worked as a communications strategist for a number of national and international public relations firms, including Burson Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe.

Early Life

Bethel was born the son of Paul D. Bethel, a Foreign Service Office, U.S. Department of State. He lived in various cities in Germany, Japan and in Havana, Cuba between 1950 and 1960. He graduated from Miami Edison High School in Miami, Florida, where he excelled in sports as well as academic pursuits, being selected for The Miami News All-Star Football Team in 1964, Scholar Athlete of the Year and was elected to his high school’s hall of fame. Bethel attended Tulane University and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

Bethel’s parents with Raul Castro at a reception held by the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Phillip Bonsal shortly after Fidel’s ascension to power. His father was the Press Attaché at the Embassy.

Professional Career

Senator Paul Laxalt (bottom left) and staff. J. David Bethel (top left), press secretary and speech writer. Standing in the back with a hat…Mike Love of the Beach Boys.

Bethel began his government/political career in 1972 as a staff member of the Legacy of Parks program in the Executive Office of the President. He was a press advance officer and wrote speeches for administration officials who served as surrogates for President Nixon during Legacy of Park ceremonies dedicating excess federal properties to state and local governments. In 1973, he joined the staff of Congressman Burt Talcott (R-CA) as press secretary. Bethel moved to the staff of Senator Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) in 1975 and served as press secretary and speechwriter. He helped Laxalt craft the speech the Senator used to nominate then-Governor Ronald Reagan as the Republican candidate for president in 1976. Bethel also wrote the lead article for the publication celebrating the second inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, We the People—An American Celebration.

Bethel with Julie Nixon Eisenhower at a dedication event for which he did the press advance.

From 1979 until 1982, Bethel was managing editor and president of North-South Net, Inc. The company published the Aboard in-flight magazine for Venezuela’s Viasa Airlines, Bolivia’s Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB), Peru’s Aeroperú, El Salvador’s TACA Airlines, Panama’s Air Panama Airlines and Paraguay’s national carrier Air Paraguay.

In 1982, Bethel returned to Washington to serve as executive assistant to Darrel Trent, the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. He later joined the staff of the assistant secretary of the department’s Office of Policy and International Affairs to serve as the chief speechwriter for the assistant secretary and senior staff members. In 1989, Bethel moved to the U.S Department of Education where he headed the office of speechwriting for the Secretary of Education. Vital Speeches of the Day published an address Bethel wrote for Secretary Lauro Cavazos – “America’s Education Deficit” – which was delivered to the members of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Bethel also served as Chief Speechwriter and Director of the Editorial Office at the U.S. Small Business Administration for Administrators Susan Engeleiter and Patricia Saiki from 1990 to 1992.

Prior to joining the senior staff of Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans in 2001, Bethel served as a communications consultant for a number of prominent public relations firms. He wrote books, speeches, opinion pieces and white papers for such companies as Monsanto, the Sheraton Corporation, UniRoyal as well as the Urban Land Institute, the American Forest and Paper Association, the American Gaming Association, and for individuals, among them Hassan Adamu, Nigerian Minister of Agricultural and Rural Development. Upon joining Secretary Evans staff as senior adviser and chief speechwriter, Bethel wrote speeches the secretary delivered to forums across the United States and throughout the world, including the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Council of the Americas and various Chambers of Commerce in Latin America. Vital Speeches of the Day again selected for publication an address written by Bethel and delivered by the secretary to The European Institute.

In 2002, Bethel joined the new Office of Citizen Services and Communications at the U.S. General Services Administration as the Associate Administrator for Communications under GSA Administrator Stephen Perry. In this role, he directed communications for GSA, an agency employing 12,000 federal workers, with an annual operating budget of roughly $26.3 billion. He was promoted to Assistant Administrator of this office in 2006 by Administrator Lurita Doan.

Literary Career

John David Bethel is an award-winning author whose novels include Evil Town, Hotel Hell, Unheard OfHolding Back the Dark and A Washington Trilogy. He has also been published in popular consumer magazines and respected political journals.


Related: How I Write, by John David Bethel

Featured Interview – John David Bethel