Secretary Panetta Pays Tribute to Institute Vice Chair Bob Antle

Secretary Leon Panetta paid tribute to longtime friend and Panetta Institute Vice Chair Bob Antle, who died August 3, 2014  in Salinas. Secretary Panetta was one of several speakers at the memorial service for Mr. Antle on August 11, 2014 at the World Theater, California State University, Monterey Bay. Here is a complete text of his remarks.

First of all, on behalf of my wife, Sylvia, and all of our boys and family and the staff at the Panetta Institute, I want to extend our deepest condolences to Sue and the entire Antle family over the loss of Bob.

I don’t know about you, but I looked up at that picture, and I have a hell of a time believing that Bob is gone. He is someone that we will really miss, and we will miss him because Bob Antle was life itself. He filled every corner, every corner of that small space in time that we all have, and with his big arms and his big smile and his big heart, he loved and embraced life itself — his family, his work, his community, his fellow human beings.

Bob loved his family, and especially Sue and that 58-year love affair that began at Watsonville High. I know we talk about checks and balances in government, but I believe every strong relationship has checks and balances, as well.

Bob loved life, and he loved a good party. He was someone who could really enjoy the party. He got loud. He got boisterous. He got talkative. As soon as I would walk in the room — the Antles were kind enough to have dinners for congressional interns as well as other events — he would shove a glass of Scotch into my hands. Now, I’m not talking about one-finger Scotch or two. We are talking about a fist. And he wanted me to have it, and he wanted me to enjoy it, and before you knew it, we were off to the races, and we were talking about politics, we were talking about agriculture, we were talking about water.

God, did he want to talk about water. I mean, this is like a priest talking about hell and damnation, especially when it involved government. And he would talk about old times, and we would get more and more talkative and louder, and finally, Sue — and, actually, Sylvia for that matter — you know, it happens when you have been married to somebody for over 50 years; they look at you with a certain look, a quiet look, and they kind of provide that firm grip on your hand, and we quietly go to our tables.

Life is about love, and Bob loved Sue and his sons and daughters and those 21 grandchildren and that one great-grandchild. They were all the heart and soul of his life.

Bob also loved his work. I have often had the chance to go out in the field with Bob. He loved straight rows, and he loved a good crop, and he loved people who were working hard. Sylvia and I had a chance to go to the 100th birthday celebration for George Tanimura, and I remember looking around that big tent, at all of the pioneers in agriculture in this area. They had a huge cake that looked like a packing crate with lettuce and carrots and celery and vegetables. It was remarkable. And I looked at George and Bob, and I realized that these two, along with others in that tent, have brought Salinas agriculture into the 21st century, in technology, in packing and shipping, in marketing, in transportation, in labor relations, in water and seed innovations, and, as mentioned, in improving the conditions of farmworkers with housing and health care and other benefits.

The fact is that the name “Antle” and “Agriculture” are synonymous, and will live forever.

He loved and embraced his community. Through his generosity and his caring and his deep belief and faith that if you give somebody a chance, if you give somebody a chance, they can succeed. They can have the opportunity to succeed in our society, because that was his story. That was his story, and he believed in it.

That is why he got involved with the Panetta Institute, working with Sylvia and me, trying to inspire young people to get involved in public life.

He was one of our first board members. He was a co-chairman, but I have to tell you, for Bob, it was not just an honorary title — it was about working at it. He was loyal. He was dedicated, and he really rolled up his sleeves and worked at it. He would attend board meetings, and for those of us who knew Bob, he had a very sensitive BS meter. I mean, he would sit at a meeting, didn’t say a damn thing, and every other board member would talk, and then near the end, you know, he would kind of look at everybody and say, “you know, that is all BS,” and then we would get his opinion.

He was someone who, along with Sue, attended all of our lectures, our forums, our events, our dinners, and he was always there, always, always loyal and always, always generous. Why? He cared about young people. He cared about our country. And, frankly, he did not give a damn whether you were a Republican or Democrat. Bob had the heart of a Democrat but the business mind of a Republican. But more importantly, he had the soul of a patriot. He believed that the purpose of public service was to make this country better.

And if you could inspire young people to get involved in public service, that was the best investment you could make in the future. And that is why he got involved in CSUMB. When we established the campus, I remember him coming up to me and saying it was the best thing to happen, to establish this campus, and to give young people here, who might never have the chance, the opportunity to get a good education and to improve their lives. And that is why he was so generous and supportive of what this campus was all about.

In the end, his whole life came together into probably his most important quality, which is that he loved and embraced his fellow human beings.

He saw what was good in human beings, and he also saw their faults. Let’s face it. Bob did not tolerate fools easily. If he thought you were saying something foolish, he would tell you. The best part of Bob and something I always loved — he was direct, he was honest, he was straightforward. You did not have to read between the lines. What he thought, what he believed in is what he said. That rare quality of pure honesty, pure honesty. And everything he did, everything he did, is about making people’s lives better. That is the American dream, and Bob lived that dream. He helped countless others, young and old, live that dream as well.

I have always said that I think the ultimate test of one’s life on earth is whether or not you can say that that person made a difference in the lives of others. Throughout his life, Bob Antle made one hell of a difference in the lives of others, and though we will miss him terribly, he will live forever in our hearts, in our memories, and, most of all, in the success of every student and every person that he has ever helped.

God bless you, Bob, and, by the way, would you straighten out those rows in heaven, and would you please have a Scotch ready for the rest of us to join the party.