Leon Panetta, newly retired after a half-century career in government, celebrated a homecoming of sorts with his Feb. 21 appearance at the Celebrity Forum Speaker Series at Flint Center in Cupertino.
The former congressman, U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA director was born and raised in Monterey and graduated from Santa Clara University.
His immigrant father owned a restaurant in Monterey. When Panetta was still a child, his dad planted a walnut orchard and he remembers helping harvest the walnuts. He said someone told him later, after he entered government service: “You’ve been dodging nuts all your life.”
There was one certified “nut” that Panetta did not dodge, however: His influence in the decision-making process to pursue al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden permanently etched his name in the history books. The killing of Bin Laden in May 2011 by the U.S. Navy Seals proved one of the proudest moments in U.S. history.
Panetta’s first government experience included a stint in the U.S. Army, where he served as an intelligence officer from 1964 to 1966. He received the Army Commendation Medal.
His diverse political career dates back to the 1970s. Prior to serving under President Barack Obama as CIA director and defense secretary, Panetta was chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and director of the Office of Management and Budget. He also served on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Budget Committee, including four years as chairman, during his tenure as a congressman from 1977 to 1993.
“Democracy is not driven by crisis but by leadership,” Panetta told the Flint Center audience. “We are the greatest country in the world because of our values: Trust is everything.”
Founded in 1968 by moderator Dick Henning, the Celebrity Forum series presents speakers from various fields who appear for three consecutive nights at Flint Center on the De Anza College campus.
Upcoming speakers include: historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, March 26, 27 and 28; internationally recognized French chef Jacques Pépin, April 23, 24 and 25; and CBS news correspondents Lara Logan and Bob Simon, May 14, 15 and 16.
For more information, visit celebrityforum.net.