West Wing Continuity Guide
path: Home / Characters * Leo Thomas McGarry

Leo John Spencer as Leo McGarry © NBC
Position: White House Chief of Staff
Age: 58ish
Played By: John Spencer
See His Life's Time-Line
Query: Is Leo Sexist?

Spouse: Jenny, who asked for a divorce after decades of marriage because, as he says, he widowed her when he took over the campaign. According to The West Wing Official Companion book, their home before "Five Votes Down", was in Chevy Chase.
Children: Daughter - Mallory ("Mallory was very nearly born at Exit 32 on the Long Island Expressway." [#422]) and in the seventh season we learn she now has a baby (April Whiteside reminded us to include this info).
Mother: ?
Father: Committed suicide due to alcoholism (his father, Leo's grandfather was also an alcoholic [#309]). See also more information on Fathers in general on this show.
Siblings: Sisters - Elizabeth [#110] & Dr. Josephine McGarry (who he calls "Jo" and "Josey") [#30]
Other: Nephew who made him an ashtray at camp [#3] & at least one other niece or nephew as he tells his sister Josephine to kiss the kids for him [#30]

  • Undergraduate - There is a discussion in "The Portland Trip" [#29] that might indicate that he went to Michigan (traditional rival of Notre Dame where Bartlet went).
  • Law School (?Chicago?)

Catholic - but he doesn't appear to be religious. When his wife asks for a divorce, he gives no indication he has a problem going against the Church in that. And, although, he mentions the President's religious beliefs, he never talks about his own except about the 12 Steps notion that "a higher power can restore us to sanity."

Military Service: Served in Vietnam as a pilot (flew an Air Force F-105, one mission he was part of was called "Rolling Thunder" in 1966 as part of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing [#49])
"You fought in a war." - President [#3]; "as one who flew planes in the war." [#22]; "I flew F-105s for the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing... [during] the war in Vietnam." [#417]
Work History:
  • At some point he may have practiced law, but he has probably spent most of his career in party politics.
  • Secretary of Labor in 1993 (and probably before and after). [#9] Around 1997, Josh addresses him as "Mr. Secretary" as if Leo had only recently resigned from the cabinet.
  • "World Class Political Operative" [#102] (It takes time to develop those skills so he seems to have been at it a while.)
  • He's been famous enough for long enough to make "$40,000 a pop on the lecture circuit". [#104]
  • "You're a player. You're bigger in the party than I am." Bartlet says to him while Leo is running Bartlet's dark horse campaign for the Presidency. [#23-24]
Where from: Boston ("You're Boston Irish Catholic" --- Josh). But later Leo claims to be a "of Chicago" [#41] and Bartlet once suggested he run for a Senate seat in Illinois [#53]. This seeming discrepancy might consist of nothing more than having been born in Boston but at some point spent a great deal of time in Chicago, enough to be able to include himself when talking about "men of Chicago". Perhaps his mother moved the family to Chicago after his father's suicide. Or perhaps, his father moved the family to Chicago before commiting suicide. Or perhaps he just lived there for a decade or two after coming back from Vietnam, maybe even to going to law school there.

Where are his ancestors from: Although he was described as being "Boston Irish Catholic", he later mentions having thousands of Scottish ancestors [#404]. But then lots of Scots moved to Ireland and there are at least two lines that make up his heritage (his mother's line as well as his father's).

Personality Traits: Alcoholic & addict (addicted to Valium). "In June of 1993, I voluntarily admitted myself to the Sierra-Tucson Rehabilitation Facility to treat an addiction to alcohol and Valium." [#12] Speculation: to become addicted one must first try a drug and Valium is not a recreational drug that many people would try just try out of the blue. It is a tranquilizer often used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which is something many Vietnam Vets (and others who have been in war-like conditions) experience. It seems unlikely that he ever saw a psychiatrist, but his regular doctor could have prescribed it.
When he relapsed into drinking before the last debate of the first Bartlet campaign for President, Leo smoked. Also, as Nikolas Cassadinne reminded us, Leo smoked in "Angel Maintenance" when the President's life was in danger on Air Force One.

Where He Lives: In a hotel which charges $6.50 for a cup of coffee (some time ago someone pointed out that it was the Watergate --- must go back over my email to find that note --- but it was Leo's wife who was going to stay at the Watergate when she left him during "#4 "Five Votes Down"").

Plays: May have once done some bicycling - (Had enough interest to own --- and swear he wouldn't lend out --- a $4,000 bicycle.) [#101]
Watches: Football, when he gets a chance.

Wealth: The President, who calls himself "well-off" calls Leo "rich" although few men remain rich after a divorce and while working for the government, so that may just be an old joke between the two old friends.
Indicated the same thing in the following conversstion:
". . . I could fund this initiative out of my pocket."
"It's 10 million dollars," Toby says.
"Leo could fund it out of his pocket." [#51]

Leisure Activities: Does the New York Times Crossword puzzle "for stimulation" [#101]

Musical Instruments: At one point he seems to have taken piano lessons, "My piano teacher used to wear White Shoulders'." [#516]

Foods Liked: Waitress knows he likes tomato juice [#120]; he tells Donna that if she goes to Phoebe's, she should "tell Dario, the Chef, that you work for me and you want the flash-seared escolat with foie gras butter." [#29]

What He Says About Himself:
  • "I'm unpredictable." [#5]
  • "I need to win." [#104]
  • "You don't have to tell me its no joke, Josh. It's my life. All I'm saying is that we don't do these things." --- Leo to Josh about asking Sam's call girl friend for information that would force the Republicans to back off. [#110]
  • "I'm a recovering alcoholic, I don't need a good reason [to drink]." [#29] (sent to us by Kasey)
  • "I don't like dealing with people who are trying to impress me." [#33]
  • "I'm a war time consigliere." [#33]
  • "I've never read the comics" [#34]
  • "Breakfast is my favorite meal to eat out." [#53]
  • "I don't understand people who have one drink. I don't understand people who leave half a glass of wine on the table. I don't understand people who say they've had enough. How can you have enough of feeling like this? How can you not want to feel like this longer? My brain works differently." [#53]
  • When his lawyer complains about armed guards being put outside a door to intimiate Leo, he says,"I'm not that easily intimidated." [#54]
  • "I take my daughter to a seafood place the first thing she does is name all the lobsters in the tank so I can't eat 'em." [#3-23] (quote supplied by Candice, originally posted on the West Wing Forum at televisionwithoutpity.com)
  • "I know things." [#414]

What Others Say About Him:
  • "Father, you've gone round the bend." --- Mallory [#108]
  • "Addle-minded, Machiavelian jerk." --- Malloy [#108]
  • "Sam, we owe Leo everything. I mean everything." --- Josh [#110]
  • "You put a lot of faith in people, Leo and I love you for that" --- President [#13]
  • "Oh, I'm sorry is that Leo McGarry or is that Fred Astaire?" asks Mrs. Bartlet. [#7]
    "Fred Astaire," Leo answers, pantomiming a ballroom dance (sounds like she considers him a good dancer)
  • "Six years ago he was Secretary of Labor. He was high when he was running the Department of Labor." --- Sam says increduously, knowing off the top of his head exactly what Leo was doing six years ago, so Leo hadn't just taken over the post, but had held, and would continue to hold it, for some time. [#9]
  • "You fought in a war. Got me elected. You run the country." ---Bartlet [#9]
  • "Leo, Knute Rockne. Sometimes, I get 'em mixed up." --- Josh [#6]
  • "You're the second most powerful man in the country." --- Josh [#33]
  • "Leo is made of leather. His face has a map of the world on it, Leo comes back." --- President Bartlet [#53]
  • "Leo runs the show." --- President Bartlet [#46]
  • "You may be the last sane voice around here." --- President Bartlet [#54]
  • "And in addition to being a good friend to Israel, Leo McGarry, of course, is the most Jewish man most of us have ever met. For that he gets this Yarmulka which has been crumbled up in my coat pocket since a wedding in 1962. For everything else the Medal of David."
    "Thank you very much, Mr. Israeli Foreign Minister. A thousand dead relatives in Scotland, just started crying." [#404]

What he says about his job
  • "This is the most important thing I'll ever do. I have to do it well."
    "It's not more important than your marriage." --- Leo's wife, Jenny
    "It is more important than my marriage, right now. These few years while I'm doing this, yes it is more important than my marriage." [#104]

What his assistant said to him about making appointments
  • "Do I need to explain the rules on making appointments again? Are you confused?" --- Margaret [#46]

Other Aspect of the Character
For a political operative, Leo isn't that good with names:
  • In the pilot when he comes in to the office, He calls someone Jerry who corrects him saying it's Joe. Leo says, "whatever."
  • In episode 2 he easily admits that he's forgotten Morris's wife's name, of course he may never have known it and was just being polite.
  • Leo doesn't recognize his sister by her name (when Margaret mentions her) or his daughter by the unusual name of Mallory when Sam mentions to him that Mallory has asked him out. [#110]
Leo calls just about everyone other than the President (and the Vice President in public) by their first names. Very soon after the 21 year old Charlie joins the staff, Leo says, "Charlie, call me Leo, would you." [#14]
Additional Information:
  • To reassure the President that he can go to sleep, the first lady tells him: "Leo's in the West Wing." Even though there's a crisis going on, this does show the President that he can rest. [#12]
  • He was an old friend of Josh's father. [#23-24]

For more information on this fascinating character see:
28 Amendment
Don't miss Neal Rechtman's election thriller The 28th Amendment in which an actor
who portrays a fictional US President on television gets drawn into real-world politics
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