Mendez made an impact

Residents of the Tri-State Area have had the opportunity to meet and hear the thoughts of some very interesting individuals though the Herald-Star Speaker Series.

We were reminded of that on Jan. 19 when we learned of the death of Antonio “Tony” Mendez.

Mendez, the former CIA agent who became known as the “Master of Disguise,” and his wife, Jonna, herself a former CIA agent, visited Steubenville on April 9, 2013. Their presentation was the second in the series.

The topic was the work Mendez did as the mastermind behind the rescue of six U.S. diplomats who had managed to avoid capture when the American embassy in Tehran was stormed on Nov. 4, 1979. He pulled it off by having them pose as members of a crew working on a fake film called “Argo.”

His efforts worked, and the six were removed from the country in 1980.

Their talk was based on the book “Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History,” which Mendez had written with Matt Baglio. The story also was dramatized in the film “Argo,” which was directed by and starred Ben Affleck. That film, which had been released in October 2012, dominated the award circuit that season, winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing, as well as Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture — Drama and Best Director.

More than 700 residents from across the Tri-State Area enjoyed their presentation at the auditorium at Steubenville High School.

And Tony and Jonna said they enjoyed the time they spent in our community.

They talked about how relaxing it was to be able to sit on the front porch of the Garrett House on Fourth Street, and how appreciative they were of being able to just sit back and enjoy their morning coffee. The two also said they were impressed with the kindness of everyone they met while in our community.

None of that was surprising — all of the speakers who have been a part of our series have been gracious, and all have been willing to go out of their way to make sure their presentations are enjoyable experiences.

I had the opportunity to spend time with the two of them while they were in town. Probably the most enjoyable couple of hours came after their presentation had ended, when I, a close friend and a few of those who had worked on the series had the chance to sit back in the great room inside the Garrett House with Jonna and Tony.

We enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and more than a few beers and listened as they shared tales from their work with the CIA — some of which are included in the books “Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations That Helped Win the Cold War,” and “The Master of Disguise.”

The talk became spirited, and, on more than one occasion, Jonna had to question Tony about whether he should be sharing some of the stories.

Tony Mendez was 78 when he died at an assisted living center in Frederick, Md. His book agent, Christy Fletcher, said he died as a result of the Parkinson’s disease he had been diagnosed with 10-plus years ago, according to the Hollywood Reporter.


While I was saddened to learn of the death of Mendez, I was encouraged to learn that the health of another speaker in our series is improving.

Michael Hayden, the Pittsburgh-native who served as head of the CIA and the National Security Agency, has returned to his home after suffering a stroke in November.

A retired Air Force general, Hayden has spent “weeks of intensive inpatient rehabilitation,” according to a statement released by the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy and International Security.

He had shared his experiences and thoughts about intelligence on a global level during an April 27, 2017, presentation at Catholic Central High School.

Hayden has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, and his rehabilitation has not slowed him down. On Jan. 17, he and Neal Katyal co-authored an opinion piece that appeared in the Washington Post in which they said the House should investigate whether impeaching the president would be appropriate.

It’s an interesting op-ed written by a couple of guys who are in a position to know what they are talking about — Katyal is a former U.S. solicitor general.

Tony and Jonna Mendez and Hayden are examples of the quality speakers who have appeared as part of our series.

They’ve helped those who have attended their presentations to better understand events that have happened around the world by bringing their unique perspectives to our community.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)