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Hiram L. Fong, 97, Senator From Hawaii in 60's and 70's, Dies

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  • Ram Lau
    Hiram L. Fong, 97, Senator From Hawaii in 60 s and 70 s, Dies By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS HONOLULU, Aug. 18 (AP) - Hiram L. Fong, a son of Chinese immigrants who
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 19, 2004
      Hiram L. Fong, 97, Senator From Hawaii in 60's and 70's, Dies

      HONOLULU, Aug. 18 (AP) - Hiram L. Fong, a son of Chinese immigrants
      who overcame poverty to become a millionaire businessman and the
      first Asian-American elected to the United States Senate, died
      Wednesday at his home here. He was 97.

      His death was announced by Maureen Lichter, a spokeswoman for
      Finance Factors, a financial company that Mr. Fong founded.

      Mr. Fong's life was a tale of a poor shoeshine boy rising from the
      slums of Honolulu to the Senate, where he served almost 18 years. He
      was also president of nine companies.

      "I'm symbolic of the opportunities afforded to a person in a
      democracy," he once said.

      In 1959, Hawaii entered the union as the 50th state, opening up
      three Congressional seats, one in the House and two in the Senate.
      Mr. Fong, a Republican, decided to run for the Senate.

      "I'm going to lose money," he said at the time. "But I'm willing to
      do that. I'm more than pleased with the bountiful blessings I have
      received which, even in my fancies, I would not have dreamed and
      would not have attained but for the opportunities I have received
      from a democracy."

      He won and was sworn into office on Aug. 24, 1959. Mr. Fong remains
      the only Republican to have represented Hawaii in the Senate.

      Mr. Fong was a delegate to six Republican national conventions, from
      1952 to 1972, and was nominated as a favorite son candidate for
      president at the 1964 and 1968 conventions.

      "Civil rights was very much a concern of mine," he said of his
      career. His amendment to a civil rights bill required auditors at
      polling places to assure minority voting rights, and he co-sponsored
      a 1965 bill assuring that Asians would be allowed to immigrate in
      similar numbers as people from other continents.

      He retired from the Senate in January 1977, but continued to be an
      elder statesman of the Hawaii Republican Party. Until recently, he
      also continued to spend mornings at his downtown office.

      Mr. Fong was born Yau Leong Fong, the seventh of 11 children. His
      parents had immigrated separately to Hawaii from Guangdong Province,
      China, with his father arriving in 1872 as an indentured laborer for
      a sugar plantation and his mother working as a maid.

      Early in his adult life, Mr. Fong decided to change his given name
      to Hiram, "just because it was a good name." Although he was a
      Chinese-American, people often believed he was part Native Hawaiian.
      It was a belief he did not discourage, especially in his early years
      of politics.

      Mr. Fong began working at the age of 4, when he picked and sold
      algarroba beans for cattle feed. He liked to tell stories of how he
      caught and sold fish and crabs, delivered poi and caddied nine holes
      of golf for 25 cents - an experience that permanently soured him on
      the game.

      By the age of 7, he was selling newspapers and shining shoes on the
      streets of Honolulu.

      He graduated from McKinley High School in Honolulu in 1924 and
      worked his way through college collecting overdue bills and guiding
      tourists at temples.

      Mr. Fong graduated with honors from the University of Hawaii in 1930
      and then worked for two years for the Honolulu suburban water
      system. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1935.

      In 1938, Mr. Fong won his first political race, for a seat in the
      Territorial House of Representatives. He also married Ellyn Lo, a
      high school sweetheart, with whom he had four children: Hiram Jr., a
      former Honolulu city councilman; Rodney, who tends the family
      botanical garden; and twins, Marvin-Allen and Merie-Ellen Fong Gushi.

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