Leo McGarry is the former United States Secretary of Labor, former White House Chief of Staff, Senior Counselor to Democratic President Josiah Bartlet, Democratic Vice Presidential nominee for the 2006 election and, posthumously, Vice President-Elect of the United States.
Leo McGarry was born to an alcoholic father who shot himself after a fight with his wife. He had two sisters, Elizabeth and Josephine. In mid-1993, Leo voluntarily admitted himself to the Sierra-Tucson Rehab Institute to treat an addiction to Valium drugs and alcohol—hence most people, including himself, called him “a recovering alcoholic and drug addict”. Leo and his ex-wife Jenny O’Brien have a daughter, Mallory.
Leo McGarry hails from Chicago, Illinois, though there seems to be some family connection to (likely one or more of his parents were born in) Boston, Massachusetts, as Josh Lyman at one point calls Leo 'Boston Irish Catholic'. A 2000 conversation between McGarry and the President strongly hints his attending the University of Michigan at least for undergraduate work; it is also implied that Leo has a law degree.
Leo joined the United States Air Force and flew F-105s for the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing during the Vietnam War. During this time, he and his friend Ken O'Neill were shot down near Hanoi, and O’Neil carried a wounded Leo through the jungle for three days.
According to President Bartlet, he was a Senior Corporate Officer for Muller-Wright, a defense contract company with Ken O’Neil for over ten years.
In June 1993, Leo voluntarily admitted himself to the Sierra Tucson Rehabilitation Facility to treat his addiction to alcohol and Valium, spending nearly a month there. When he got out, only his family, President Bartlet, the FBI and the Secret Service knew.
After leaving the cabinet, Leo went to New Hampshire in 1997 to persuade his old friend, Governor Josiah Bartlet, to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Having so convinced him, Leo became his manager, dubbing the campaign “Bartlet for America (1998)” and hiring top political talents Toby Ziegler, Sam Seaborn, C.J. Cregg and Josh Lyman to work for the campaign. Eventually Bartlet, deemed an insurgent candidate by the media, defeated Senator John Hoynes of Texas (whom Leo picked as Bartlet’s ticket-balancing vice presidential nominee) and went on to win the presidency.
Bartlet White House
As President Bartlet’s Chief of Staff and top advisor, Leo had an office next to the Oval Office and sat in with the President in the Situation Room; he was very involved in the formation of policy and day-to-day operations of the White House and its staff. Leo was a recovering alcoholic and Valium addict; his problems with it and his workaholic attitude towards his job as Chief of Staff contributed to his divorce from wife Jenny. Leo was revealed as an Air Force veteran, having flown F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bombers in the Vietnam War.
In season six Leo had a heart attack outside Camp David, leading to his replacement by White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg. He later returned to work after Bartlet’s last State of the Union Address in his new role as Senior Counselor to the President. Though he vowed not to work in any presidential campaign to succeed Bartlet, the latter asked him to run the deadlocked Democratic National Convention; as it neared its endpoint, Josh Lyman convinced Congressman Matt Santos to pick McGarry as his vice-presidential nominee—an irony, as McGarry had earlier urged Santos to drop out of the race for the sake of party unity.
During the ensuing campaign the press and others tended to call him “Mr. McGarry” (as opposed to “Secretary McGarry”, the standard for a former cabinet member).
On Election Night, Leo went up to his hotel room in Houston to rest before the results came in. He collapsed in the bathroom of an apparent heart attack, and was later found by Annabeth Schott and rushed to the hospital, only to be pronounced dead. His death ninety minutes before the polls closed in California and other western states likely gave some thought prior to casting their vote, but the Santos-McGarry ticket still narrowly won the election over Vinick-Sullivan’s by a small 30,000 vote margin in Nevada, making McGarry posthumously the Vice President-Elect.
His funeral was held at an unnamed Catholic church (filmed at The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, Maryland). President Josiah Bartlet, President-elect Matthew Santos, Josh Lyman, Charlie Young, former DNC head Barry Goodwin, and McGarry’s unnamed son-in-law served as pallbearers. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Though he wouldn’t be seen again on-screen in flashback or otherwise after his death, his presence—or lack thereof—was felt in the final episodes of the series, chiefly in the finale when his daughter presented a gift to President Bartlet that she found in Leo’s possessions. In the final scene, Bartlet opened the gift to find the napkin with the words “Bartlet For America” which Leo had written to start Bartlet on his Presidential journey almost a decade earlier, and which the latter had framed and gifted back to Leo as encouragement during the House of Representatives’ hearings into the apparent MS cover-up towards the end of his first term.
- University of Michigan
- Retired Colonel in the United States Air Force (veteran of the Vietnam War)
- 1991-1995: Secretary of Labor
- 1997-1998: Campaign manager for the “Bartlet for America” presidential campaign
- 1999-2005: White House Chief of Staff
- 2005-2006: Senior Counselor to the President
- 2006: Chairman, DNC Convention in San Diego, California
- 2006: Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee
- 2006: Vice President-Elect of the United States
Parallel to Bush Administration
It’s of note that Leo’s six and a half-year tenure as Chief of Staff would be rather extraordinary in reality (though during the George W. Bush Administration, Chief of Staff Andrew Card served for over five years), the average tenure since 1945 around two years, though this may not be true in the West Wing universe. He would also be considered historically a very powerful Chief of Staff—comparisons may be drawn to H. R. Haldeman, often called the “second most powerful man in America” during Richard Nixon’s administration, in terms of influence and closeness to the President, ignoring Haldeman’s ethical foibles.
Many similarities show between McGarry and real-life Vice-President Dick Cheney: both were former Cabinet Secretaries and White House Chiefs of Staff, and older (and considered more experienced) than their respective running-mates; Santos’ choice of McGarry as his running-mate may have been due to the former’s lack of experience in foreign affairs and security issues, whereas McGarry’s deep understanding and expertise on issues is shown during the Bartlet administration. This was also true of Cheney when he was picked as running mate of Bush, who lacked experience in these areas too, while Cheney served as Secretary of Defense in George H.W. Bush’s administration. McGarry’s and Cheney’s health was also a factor during their respective campaigns—both suffer from heart conditions.
An interesting fact of Leo’s past is the timing of his service as Secretary of Labor—several references are made during the series that Bartlet's predecessor in the Oval Office was a two-term Republican who, in the show’s timeline, would’ve served from 1991 to 1999. The presence of Leo—a Democrat—in this president’s cabinet speaks to his status of respect from both major parties.
|Season 5 appearances|
|"7A WF 83429"||"The Dogs of War"||"Jefferson Lives"||"Han"||"A Constituency of One"|
|"Disaster Relief"||"Separation of Powers"||"Shutdown"||"Abu el Banat"||"The Stormy Present"|
|"Opposition Research"||"Slow News Day"||"The Warfare of Genghis Khan"||"An Khe"||"Full Disclosure"|
|"Eppur Si Muove"||"The Supremes"||"Access"||"Talking Points"||"No Exit"|
|Season 6 appearances|
|"NSF Thurmont"||"The Birnam Wood"||"Third-Day Story"||"Liftoff"||"The Hubbert Peak"|
|"The Dover Test"||"A Change Is Gonna Come"||"In The Room"||"Impact Winter"||"Faith Based Initiative"|
|"Opposition Research"||"365 Days"||"King Corn"||"The Wake Up Call"||"Freedonia"|
|"Drought Conditions"||"A Good Day"||"La Palabra"||"Ninety Miles Away"||"In God We Trust"|
|"Things Fall Apart"||"2162 Votes"|
|Season 7 appearances|
|"The Ticket"||"The Mommy Problem"||"Message of the Week"||"Mr. Frost"||"Here Today"|
|"The Al Smith Dinner"||"The Debate"||"Undecideds"||"The Wedding"||"Running Mates"|
|"Internal Displacement"||"Duck and Cover"||"The Cold"||"Two Weeks Out"||"Welcome to Wherever You Are"|
|"Election Day (Part I)"||"Election Day (Part II)"||"Requiem"||"Transition"||"The Last Hurrah"|
Notes and references
- In Excelsis Deo — Margaret mentions her name as Leo is signing another Christmas card, this time for family.
- The Portland Trip
- And It's Surely to Their Credit — when he tells Josh Lyman that if he was to go ahead with the Ku Klux Klan lawsuit he, Sam, and Toby “would take a leave of absence and join Josh’s legal team”.
- An Khe
- Memorial Day
|Secretary of Labor
eventually Carl Reid
|White House Chief of Staff
|Democratic Vice Presidential candidate