Panetta Plaza

Gathering Space Honors Two Longtime Supporters

by Elizabeth Kelley Gillogly B.A. '93
Article from the Spring 2017 issue of Santa Clara Law Magazine



The Howard S. and Alida S. Charney Hall of Law, a 96,000-square-foot facility that will soon be the new home of Santa Clara Law, will include a major outdoor plaza named for Leon E. Panetta B.A. ’60, J.D. ’63, and his wife, Sylvia, who have been longtime supporters of the school. Located at the south entrance to Charney Hall near the gateway to the SCU campus, Panetta Plaza will serve as a prominent gathering point for the Law School community including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends. The new facility is under construction now and is slated to open in early 2018.

“I am so proud that Santa Clara Law’s new building, Charney Hall, will have this beautiful plaza named for one of our school’s most distinguished and supportive graduates, Leon Panetta, and his wife Sylvia,” said Santa Clara Law Dean and Professor Lisa Kloppenberg. “We are so grateful to the Panettas for their bold and ongoing support of Santa Clara University and the Law School, including strong leadership and vision for our future, service on our leadership boards, teaching our law students about public policy, mentoring our students through the Panetta Institute Fellowships, and generous financial support of our programs.”

“Leon and Sylvia are models of public service for all our graduates,” says SCU President Michael Engh, S.J. “One of Santa Clara University’s most outstanding alumni, Leon Panetta has dedicated his life to public service as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and in high-ranking leadership roles under two U.S. presidents. Sylvia has been his stalwart partner by his side throughout his career. We are fortunate to count Leon and Sylvia among Santa Clara’s treasured friends, and we are honored to name this new plaza in honor of them.”

Panetta Plaza

Leon Edward Panetta began his long and distinguished public service career in 1964 as a U.S. Army intelligence officer, receiving the Army Commendation Medal. Upon his discharge, he served in Washington as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senate minority whip Tom Kuchel of California. In 1969, Panetta was appointed director of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, and later he served as executive assistant to the mayor of New York City. He returned to Monterey, where he practiced law until his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976, and he represented his district for 16 years. Under President Clinton, Panetta served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (1993-4) and White House Chief of Staff (1994-7). He returned to California in 1997 and, with his wife, Sylvia, established The Panetta Institute for Public Policy, based at California State University, Monterey Bay (panettainstitute.org). He served in the Obama Administration as U.S. Secretary of Defense from 2011-13, and as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2009-11.

The recipient of hundreds of awards and honors, Panetta has been a member of numerous boards and commissions during his career, including his current service on the boards of directors for Oracle and Blue Shield of California. He previously served as Distinguished Scholar to Chancellor Charles B. Reed of the California State University System and professor of public policy at Santa Clara University, and he served on SCU’s Board of Trustees from 1988 to 2009. He is the author of Worthy Fights (Penguin, 2014), a memoir about his life in public service. Panetta earned a B.A. in political science and a J.D., both from Santa Clara University.

Sylvia, who is the driving force behind the Panetta Institute, studied prenursing and humanities at Dominican College in 1958-59, and she graduated from St. Joseph’s College of Nursing in San Francisco in 1962. She later studied humanities at Monterey Peninsula College in 1973-74 and went on to study as a humanities major at Sonoma State University in 1974-75. From 1977 to 1993, she directed five Congressional district offices in the 16th (now 20th) Congressional District as a volunteer for Leon Panetta. She also directed each of his re-election campaigns from 1980 to 1992.

Leon and Sylvia Panetta have three sons, Christopher, Carmelo, and James J.D. ’96 (who was sworn in to Congress representing Monterey County in January), and six grandchildren.

“Santa Clara University is a place that is very close to my heart,” said Leon Panetta. “I spent many wonderful years at SCU as a student and, during the five decades since then, my family’s connection to this great University has only grown stronger. Sylvia and I are honored to have this plaza named for us in this bold and exciting new home for Santa Clara Law. We look forward to gathering and celebrating with our community when the new building opens and at the many milestones in the future.”

Panetta Plaza

“Leon and Sylvia are models of public service for all our graduates,” says SCU President Michael Engh, S.J. “One of Santa Clara University’s most outstanding alumni, Leon Panetta has dedicated his life to public service as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and in high-ranking leadership roles under two U.S. presidents. Sylvia has been his stalwart partner by his side throughout his career. We are fortunate to count Leon and Sylvia among Santa Clara’s treasured friends, and we are honored to name this new plaza in honor of them.”

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