SAN JOSE, Calif. — Stuart Mineta recounted as a child becoming frustrated with his attempt to draw a model airplane, so he asked his father to draw it for him. As he often did, Norman Mineta took the time to focus his attention on the task at hand.
Family and political leaders shared memories and stories of the late former Secretary of Transportation with hundreds at Mineta’s public memorial service, held June 16 at San Jose Civic.
“Shockingly, his drawing was actually really good, surprisingly good,” Stuart Mineta recalled.
Norman Yoshio Mineta was born on Nov. 12, 1931 in San Jose, Calif. He passed away May 3, 2022. Multiple news outlets reported that John Flaherty, Mineta’s former chief of staff, said Mineta passed away due to a heart ailment.
Mineta was elected as the mayor of San Jose in 1971, a position he held until 1975. He was the first Asian American mayor of a major metropolitan city. Mineta served in Congress for 20 years before serving as Secretary of Commerce.
Mineta became a driving force behind the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided reparations for the surviving persons of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated in U.S. concentration camps during World War II. Mineta and his family were incarcerated at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, Calif. and Heart Mountain, Wyo.
He served as the Secretary of Transportation from 2001 to 2006. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Mineta oversaw the creation of the Transportation Security Administration.
Mineta San José International Airport and Norman Y. Mineta Highway are named after him.
Former President Bill Clinton remarked that Mineta would not let his wartime incarceration “define his whole life.” Clinton added that Mineta was “trying to be a builder, not a breaker. A uniter, not a divider.”
Leon Panetta, the former Secretary of Defense, shared several stories of his friendship with his former colleague. When Panetta ran for Congress, he said Mineta campaigned for him because the incumbent candidate made nasty remarks about people of Japanese descent, motivating Mineta to help Panetta reach Congress.
Panetta also recalled mix-ups D.C. officials made between himself and Mineta, including one instance when the White House invited Mineta during the Italian prime minister’s visit to Washington D.C. and when they invited Panetta during the Japanese prime minister’s visit.
Robert Brantner, one of Mineta’s stepsons, said Mineta became his “new dad” instead of a stepfather. While in aviation college, Mineta gave him a personal tour of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. He said the memories he “will treasure the most will be the 31 years of watching him with my mom (Danealia “Deni” Brantner) and the quiet love they shared with one another…”
David Mineta said one of the letters and cards his family received after his father passed was an eighth grade class photo — from decades ago — in Washington, D.C. with an inscribed message from the then-Congressman Mineta. Sitting in his Kennedy rocking chair wearing his sweatsuit after a long day at work, Mineta used to begin his second work day, which included writing the messages on class photos, David Mineta said.
Rear Admiral Joanna M. Nunan, who served as Mineta’s military assistant from 2004 to 2006, revealed one of the best ways Deni Brantner coped with Mineta’s passing had been watching Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors make a run through the NBA playoffs. She likened Curry to Mineta — to put Mineta’s significance in perspective.
“I wonder if Deni realizes why she likes this guy,” Nunan said. “Stephen Curry is the Norman Mineta of basketball.”