By Jennie Tezak
Leon Panetta fans flocked to the Casa Munras Hotel November 11 to have their copies of Worthy
Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace signed by the man himself. The former director of
the CIA and former defense secretary in the Obama administration recently published his second
book. The book chronicles much of his time working in the Obama administration.
Panetta’s book is hailed on Amazon.com as “the inspiring and revelatory autobiography of the
defense secretary and CIA director who led the intelligence war that killed Bin Laden, among many
important roles in a legendary career. Like his career, Worthy Fights is a reflection of Panetta’s
values. It is filled with the frank, grounded, and often funny spirit of a man who never lost touch
with where he came from: his family’s walnut farm in Carmel Valley, California.”
“Basically, I wanted to tell the American story,” Panetta says, looking comfortable in a blue
blazer and slacks with his golden retriever, Bravo, by his side. His eyes twinkled throughout the
interview. “My parents were Italian immigrants and came here. They wanted to give their children a better life. That’s the American dream. I wanted to share that with people, that you can have a better life. Work at it. Fight for
it. I describe ‘worthy fights’ that I went through; this country offers opportunity to do good.”
In order to write the book, Panetta sat down with his co-writer for a number of sessions, then
conducted arduous research and drafted a number of chapters. Eyes glued to various resources and
fingers busy jotting down thoughts, experiences, and information, Panetta became an ink slinger
with a potent message.
Currently, Panetta works closely with the Panetta Institute of Public Policy, which he co-founded
with his wife, Sylvia. “I’m trying to inspire young people to lives of public service, and there
are a number of programs to do that.” The institute is the vehicle he’s using to inspire and teach
the leaders of tomorrow; young men and women who will continue to meet the challenges of the
Another of Panetta’s most prized endeavors was establishing California State University Monterey
Bay. “Fort Ord was closed. I thought, ‘What would be a good use for the military post?’ From the
beginning, it made sense to have a campus.” Panetta approached the CSUMB chancellor and asked him
to look at the area. He thought it could well become a new campus and worked with the chancellor to
establish an offshoot of San Jose State. There are currently 7,000 students.
A long-time advocate of preserving and repairing marine ecosystems, Panetta helped to establish the
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS). Designated in 1992, Monterey Bay National Marine
Sanctuary is a federally protected marine area offshore of California’s Central Coast. He’s also
worked closely with Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, and
the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the
more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and
disaster relief,” he says.
Today, Panetta is working at the Panetta Institute, continuing to work on public policy issues and
national security. He is also rediscovering his roots as a musician. “I play the piano, classical
piano,” he says. “I began as a young boy, and I read music.”
Over a long and distinguished career, Panetta fought the worthy fight in the halls of Congress as a
part of the cabinets of two presidents. Now, his memoir
will fight the worthy fight on bookshelves across America.