Leon Panetta Biography

(Former United States Secretary of Defense (2011–2013))

Birthday: June 28, 1938 (Cancer)

Born In: Monterey, California, United States

American politician and Democratic Party member Leon Panetta served as the 23rd United States Secretary of Defense under the administration of President Barack Obama. The son of Italian immigrants, Panetta initially served the US Army and was discharged honorably. He has also served as the third director of the Central Intelligence Agency and was the 18th White House Chief of Staff. He has been a Representative of California in the US House for 16 years. Panetta has also chaired the House Budget Committee and has served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget. He has penned books and has received several awards, recognitions, and honorary doctorates. He co-founded the Panetta Institute for Public Policy with his wife, Sylvia. He also serves on several boards and often lectures on public policy. He has been a professor of public policy, too.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Leon Edward Panetta

Age: 84 Years, 84 Year Old Males


Spouse/Ex-: Sylvia Panetta (m. 1962)

father: Carmelo Frank Panetta

mother: Carmelina Maria (Prochilo)

children: Carmelo Panetta, Christopher Panetta, Jimmy Panetta

Born Country: United States

Political Leaders American Men

Notable Alumni: Santa Clara University

U.S. State: California

More Facts

education: Santa Clara University

Childhood & Early Life

Leon Panetta was born to Italian immigrants Carmelina Maria (Prochilo) and Carmelo Frank Panetta, in Monterey, California, on June 28, 1938. His parents owned a restaurant in Monterey and later purchased a walnut ranch in Carmel Valley. Leon and his older brother lived at the range in their teens.

His first brush with student politics was at Monterey High School. He was also part of the Junior Statesmen of America.

In 1956, he joined Santa Clara University, California, from where he graduated magna cum laude with a BA in political science in 1960. He gained a Juris Doctor from the Santa Clara University School of Law three years later.

He was also part of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and became a first lieutenant in the US Army in 1964. He also bagged the Army Commendation Medal. He was honorably discharged after serving for two years.

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Following his discharge from the army, Leon Panetta went to Washington as a legislative assistant to Tom Kuchel, the US Senate Minority Whip. In 1969, he became the director of the US Office for Civil Rights, where he ensured equal opportunity in public education and then became an executive assistant to New York City mayor John V. Lindsay.

He soon moved back to Monterey, where he practiced law until 1976, when he was elected to the US House of Representatives. He represented the state of California in Congress for a 16-year long stint.

During his tenure, Panetta was focused on agriculture, ocean, federal budget, and health care issues. He was also known for often supporting the Republicans in decreasing expenditure on domestic policies. He also supported abortion rights and the women-centric Equal Rights Amendment.

He was against defense and foreign policy initiatives put forward by President Ronald Reagan, especially the monetary aid provided to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. From 1989 to 1993, he chaired the House Budget Committee.

He helped in the passage of the 1988 Hunger Prevention Act, the introduction of medical insurance coverage of hospice care for terminally ill patients, and reforms for the conservation of the California coast, including the formation of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Leon Panetta later quit Congress to become the director of the Office of Management and Budget for the Clinton administration. In 1994, he became the president’s chief of staff.

In 1997, he co-established the Panetta Institute for Public Policy at California State University in Monterey Bay, along with his wife, Sylvia. In 2006, he was named to the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. In 2009, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as its director and was instrumental in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, in-spite of his lack of direct intelligence background.

He then became the secretary of defense under the Obama administration. During his tenure, he worked to develop a new defense strategy, directed counterterrorism operations, worked on US alliances, and brought in military opportunities to people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender. In 2013, he re-joined the Panetta Institute for Public Policy as its chairman.

Leon Panetta has also penned books such as the best-selling 2014 autobiography, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, in which he highlighted his time as the CIA director and secretary of defense, and Bring Us Together: The Nixon Team and the Civil Rights Retreat. He has also been a public policy professor at Santa Clara University.

He has been a co-chair of California Forward and Governor Schwarzenegger’s Council on Base Support and Retention. He has also served the boards of directors for Blue Shield of California and Oracle Corporation. He has co-chaired the Center for Strategic and International Studies Commission on Countering Violent Extremism and Bipartisan Policy Center’s Defense Personnel Task Force.

Personal Life

Leon Panetta is married to Sylvia Marie Varni, who was in-charge of his home district offices during his tenure in Congress. They live in Carmel Valley, California. The couple has three sons and six grandchildren.


Leon Panetta has received many awards and honors, such as California Forward’s Forward Thinker Award, the Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award, the Peter Benchley Ocean Award for “Excellence in Policy,” the OSS Society’s William J. Donovan Award, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance’s William Oliver Baker Award, the Distinguished Service Award from the Italian Community Services, and the National Defense Industrial Association’s Dwight D. Eisenhower Award.

See the events in life of Leon Panetta in Chronological Order

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