Although she no longer occupies a seat in the halls of power in the nation's capital, Modesto native Ann Veneman is a force on the world stage as the leader of UNICEF.
As such, the 59-year-old Veneman was ranked 46th by Forbes.com on its list of the 100 most powerful women in the world.
In assembling the list, Forbes looked for women who run countries, big companies or influential nonprofits. Their rankings are a combination of two scores: visibility — by press mentions — and the size of the organization or country these women lead.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel tops the list for the fourth consecutive year.
Veneman has been executive director of UNICEF, the United Nations agency devoted to children's well-being, since 2005. She also has served as the U.S. secretary of agriculture and California's secretary of food and agriculture.
Veneman grew up on a Modesto-area peach farm. A 1967 graduate of Downey High School, she is a lawyer by training.
She rose steadily through the ranks at the Agriculture Department following her initial appointment to a mid-level position in 1986. She specialized at the time in foreign trade.
Veneman served as deputy agriculture secretary in the first Bush administration, and as secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture under Republican Gov. Wilson.
She showed every indication of wanting to remain as agriculture secretary during Bush's second term. Instead, Bush nominated Republican Gov. Michael Johanns of Nebraska as Veneman's replacement.
A diligent campaigner for Bush during the 2004 presidential race, Veneman never publicly expressed any disappointment in his decision.
Before her departure from the Agriculture Department, Veneman's name surfaced as the leading candidate head up UNICEF. She was named to the post in early 2005, leaving the Agriculture Department behind after 12 years.
With about 8,000 employees and an annual budget of $1.7 billion, UNICEF is smaller than the Agriculture Department. But the U.N. organization aids children in 150 underdeveloped nations worldwide.
And like many U.N. operations, it has its critics, but Veneman has always welcomed a challenge:
She became Stanislaus County's first female deputy public defender in 1978.
Veneman became the first female attorney on staff when she joined the firm of Damrell, Damrell and Nelson in 1980, later becoming the firm's first female partner.
She was the first woman to serve as deputy undersecretary of agriculture for International Affairs and Commodity Programs from 1989-91, during the George H.W. Bush administration.
Veneman served as California's first female secretary of food and agriculture under Gov. Wilson from 1995 to 1999.
And she became the first and only female U.S. secretary of agriculture.
Bee city editor David W. Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2336.