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