Honorable Rod Diridon, Sr.
Emeritus Executive Director
Mineta Transportation Institute
Rod Diridon, Sr., the son of an immigrant Italian railroad brakeman, is called the father of modern transit service in California’s Silicon Valley. Raised in Dunsmuir, California, he worked his way through college as a railroad brakeman and fireman receiving a BS in accounting in 1961 and MSBA in statistics in 1963 from San Jose State University (SJSU) where he was a student leader. Rod served four years as a naval officer with two Vietnam combat tours. After two years with Lockheed, in 1969 he founded the Decision Research Institute, sold in 1977, where his “shared survey” research procedure was adopted by the United Nations. His political career began in 1971 as the youngest person ever elected to the Saratoga City Council. He retired in 1995 because of term limits, after 20 years and six terms as chair of both the Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley) Board of Supervisors and Transit Board. He is the only person to chair the San Francisco Bay Area’s (nine counties, 109 cities, 27 transit agencies) three regional governments: Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and Association of Bay Area Governments.
Rod chaired over one hundred international, national, state, and local programs, most related to transit and the environment. He served, in 1993, as the chair of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in Washington D. C. and for six years as North American vice chair of the International Transit Association (UITP) in Brussels. He advised the Federal Transit Administration and in 1995 chaired the National Research Council’s Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP). Prophetically, in 1996 Rod founded and chaired the TRB panel, "Combating Global Warming Through Sustainable Transportation Policy.” He often provides state and federal legislative testimony and participates in international trade delegations. Rod taught, as an adjunct professor, decision theory and ethics at SJSU for over 20 years.
In 1976, Rod chaired the state’s first local 1/2-cent sales tax for transit and then chaired four successful regional and a statewide transportation finance election. He organized and chaired the joint powers boards for nine successful rail construction projects. He was appointed in 2001 and reappointed in 2005, by Governors Davis and Schwarzenegger respectively, to the California High Speed Rail Authority Board on which, at 10 years, he was the longest serving member and is chair emeritus. He co-founded and chaired APTA’s High Speed and Intercity Rail Committee and National Corridors’ Coalition, served on TRB’s Intercity Rail Committee, and currently serves as the elected chair of the US High Speed Rail Association’s Board.
Promoting international understanding, Diridon founded Sister County Commissions with the Province of Florence, Italy and Region of Moscow, Russia and, at no taxpayer’s expense, frequently led delegations to each. He presented sustainable transportation keynotes at conferences in over 50 US cities and internationally in over a dozen countries (most recently Beijing, Berlin, Florence, Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Marseilles, Milano, Montreal, Moscow, New Delhi, Oslo, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Sydney, Tokyo, and Toronto) and published several related articles.
He’s especially proud of chairing the committee that guided the county’s park’s expansion from 800 to over 43,000 acres and co-chaired four County Parks’ Charter ballot measures to mandate park acquisition funding. He is a life member of the Sierra Club, and honorary life member of AAUW, American Legion, LWV, Flycasters Inc., and VFW. From 1996 to 2016 he chaired the region’s League of Conservation Voters Board and is now chair emeritus.
Rod began his community service activities when he returned from the Navy, was elected president of the San Jose and California Jaycees, and was appointed by the Mayor to chair the San Jose Citizens Community Improvement Commission prioritizing the expenditure of the Model Cities’ Program funding. Identified as a consensus builder he presided over the then-120-year-old San Jose Symphony Board from 1973 to 75 and created the San Jose Symphony Foundation Endowment which continues to thrive. He chaired the Central YMCA Board and chaired two annual Metro YMCA fund drives. He chaired the County Mental Health Council and was founding chair of the county’s National Council on Alcoholism. Rod chaired the San Jose Music and Arts Foundation and twice chaired annual fund drives, was appointed by Governor Brown as a founding member of the State Arts Commission, and authored the ordinance creating the County Arts Council and the supporting Transient Occupancy Tax. He chaired the regions USO Board and a successful capital fund campaign. He coauthored the County Historical Heritage Commission ordinance. With many of those roles Rod was asked to lead turn-around efforts for valuable but troubled non-profit organizations, a skill for which he became noteworthy and sought after.
Currently Rod is founder/president (since 1981) of the California Trolley and Railroad Corporation Board that built an historic trolley barn and rebuilt nine vintage trolleys and a mile of electrified trolley line at San Jose’s central park and is rebuilding four locomotives. For over fifteen years he presided over the Joseph B. Ridder Foundation Board until transitioning those assets to the SJSU Foundation as a journalism scholarship endowment. He recently completed terms as president of the large San Jose Rotary Club and region’s Breathe California Board (formerly the Lung Association). A scouter for over 60 years, Rod chaired 11 annual regional Scout-O-Rama annual fund drives, founding chair of the BSA Learning for Life Board, and recently chaired the Council’s 100 Year Anniversary Celebration Committee. He currently chairs the 98-year-old Lincoln Law School of San Jose Board of Trustees. He was an active member of the SJSU President’s Tower Foundation Board and the College of Business Dean’s Global Advisory Council and is currently on San Jose’s Diridon Station Joint Policy Advisory Board. He was recently appointed by the County Board President to organize and chair the County’s Task Force to create a National Heritage Area application for congressional action. He continues as a member of over 20 other policy bodies.
Privately, until recently Rod served on Wells Fargo’s regional philanthropy board and, since 1971, served on the corporate board of Empire Broadcasting Company. In August of 2016, after 23 years, he retired but retains the title of executive director emeritus of the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) created by Congress in 1991. He was president in 2009 of the national Council of University Transportation Centers representing over 150 universities.
Following are some of his more noteworthy honors. He was chosen one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of America by Time Magazine and the US Jaycees in 1973, listed in Who’s Who in America since 1974 and by the San Jose MercuryNews among the ten most influential Silicon Valley leaders in 1990. In 2000, he was named one of the "Millennium 100" who contributed most to the success of Silicon Valley in the past millennium. In 2004, he was named by the international Metro Magazine as one of the 50 who influenced mass transit most in North America in the last 100 years. He received the “Character Award” from the BSA and lifetime achievement awards from: APTA, national Council of University Transportation Centers, national High Speed Ground Transportation Association, US High Speed Rail Association, the National Association of Counties, San Jose Rotary Club (Goldeen Award), SJSU College of Business, Santa Clara County Democratic Committee, County League of Conservation Voters, and the California Lung Association. Upon his 1994 retirement from elected office, San Jose’s historic Amtrak/CalTrain Station, the reconstruction board which he had chaired, was rededicated San Jose Diridon Station.
He is especially proud of son Rod, Jr. and his wife Sabra Diridon; daughter Mary Margaret Diridon; his four grandchildren; and his wife, Dr. Gloria Duffy, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense directing nuclear disarmament negotiations, who is now the President/CEO of the Commonwealth Club of California among many other tasks.