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Senator Hiram L. Fong

First Asian American elected to the U.S. Senate

Personal Stories

Hiram Fong, recalling his days at the University of Hawaii:

Two remembrances of Hawaii Hall from Hiram L. Fong, U. S. Senator, retired, and proud alumnus of the University of Hawaii, Class of 1930.

The first one occurred on Chinese New Year, 1929.  To celebrate the event, he and some other boys hung 20,000 firecrackers on the algaroba tree in front of Hawaii Hall.  When they were set off, it made a big racket to the astonishment of faculty and students, and a bigger mess.   But Hiram, ever the resourceful young man, was able to get the janitor to clean it all up for him.

The second story dealt with his indomitable spirit, even as a student.  He had learned that students in the R.O.T.C. program were paid thirty cents a day, which was enough money to pay for his lunch.

One day during his freshman year, he encountered Colonel Adna B. Clarke in front of Hawaii Hall for permission to enroll in advanced R.O.T.C.  Colonel Clarke said he had to complete two years of basic R.O.T.C. before he could be eligible for the advanced course.

Just then Dean Andrews, advisor to the Hawaii Forum Club, an association of students interested in public speaking,  debating and oratory, passed by.

“What do you think of this young man who wants to take advanced R.O.T.C. when he hasn’t finished his basic two years?”, asked Colonel Clarke of Dean Andrews.

“Oh, let him take it”, replied Dean Andrews.  And so it was that Hiram was able to earn thirty cents for lunch money and add four more credit hours to his already twenty-one hours of study for the semester.

Shama Fong Ota, Granddaughter of Senator Fong:

The year I was born, 1977, my grandfather retired from the Senate. My whole life, I have known him as the “former” senator of Hawaii, but that didn't keep me from putting him high on a pedestal, alongside other great men. In my eyes, I saw him as someone who had achieved the unattainable; something so great that no one could ever compare. It took me all the way into my teenage years to finally realize that he was also a man, my “Gung Gung;”(chinese for grandfather) a person that I could actually talk to and who cared about me personally. The two of us would regularly “buck heads,” usually about my career choices (I didn't go into law), but I know he only wanted the best for me. To this day, whenever I make an important decision in my life, I hear his voice inside my head, advising me on what to do. He has influenced me in so many ways and I can be content in knowing that he still does.

Chelsea Fong Calunod, Granddaughter of Senator Fong:

My grandfather always pressed upon me the importance of Family and History. To know where you were from and to take care of your family, were very important to him. He took me and 5 of my cousins with him one summer to see his father's village in Kwangtung Province China. I learned a lot about the culture, but what I will remember the most was the tight bond we all formed as a family.

Emily Fong Mitchell, Granddaughter of Senator Fong:

While his life story is a testament to his work ethic, in everything he did Gung Gung embodied self-sufficiency, always striving without complaint. He would always be the first one up on New Years day, out on the driveway, raking up the red paper left by the firecrackers from the night before. Anyone who ever came across him in the Gardens, clearing brush or lifting bananas into the back of his Cadillac well into his 90’s could not help but respect his work ethic and the joy he took in completing a task himself. A few New Year’s eves ago, upon declaring that we should have fresh lemonade for the evening’s party, he commanded me to drive him down to the Gardens, where we trampled around the bushes, collecting lemons, not resting until he had tasted the fruit of our labors and declared the lemonade sufficiently sweet. Perhaps the most lasting testament to his hard work is the Gardens, 700 acres which he and his sons tamed with their own hands, making even more beautiful one of the most special spots on earth.

Janna Fong, Grandaughter of Senator Fong:

I remember not too long ago his favorite question to me was, “How much money do you make?” After I told him, he then asked me, “Do you make enough to take care of your Gung Gung?” I told him that “I was trying” and then he chuckled and said, “Don’t worry I will take care of you.”  And I think that was important to him.  To make sure that his family had everything that we needed, like the best education so that we could achieve our own dreams and success as he did.

Evan Leong, Grand-nephew of Senator Fong:

At first I used to dismiss Uncle Hiram’s stories as “It’s only Uncle Hiram” and therefore not important.  It wasn’t until later in life that I understood what a massive force of change and inspiration he was to the world and ultimately me. Now, whenever I have a challenge confronting me and I want to whine and complain I think of his journey through life and my issues always go away.  Even into his 90’s he still remembered my name as well as my wife’s name.  He had kind, gentle and strong qualities all at the same time.  His life was inspiring.  If I can be 10% of Hiram Fong, I will have a successful life.

Merie-Ellen (Muffy) Gushi, Daughter of Senator Fong:

In 1996 I was able to accompany my Father to San Francisco . He was to receive the Outstanding Citizen Achievement Award from the Organization of Chinese Americans at the Palace Hotel. A few months earlier, my daughter graduated from Harvard, my Dad’s alma mater. My Mother attended the ceremonies with us, but Dad, limited by his health, decided one trip would be all he could handle that year.

Within the festivities of the black tie event in San Francisco Dad held his own, remembering individuals from previous visits. He shook hands and signed autographs as if he were still running for political office. During the free moments he was allowed, we were able to spend some time alone, usually a rare occasion.

We walked to Chinatown where he was fascinated by the activity and assortment of goods. He had been teaching himself to read Chinese and each sign we passed he lingered over the characters and would translate them for me.

That afternoon, we had high tea in the Palace Hotel’s Garden Court . For me it was like being a child again. The Palace Hotel’s beautiful airy dining room with its beveled glass ceiling creates a fairy tale atmosphere. There I was, the little girl at a tea party with her favorite person, her Daddy.

The next day we were scheduled to leave for home late in the afternoon. We had just enough time to take in the Gay Pride Parade that was boisterously streaming past the hotel. Dad and I stood among the throngs of spectators, amazed at the costumes and frivolity of the participants.

Dad was an extraordinary man whose life was filled with diversity. He found delight in each activity, whether it was speaking in front of an admiring audience before being presented with an award or just watching a 6 foot guy sashay pass in stilettos. Those few days in San Francisco with him will always be some of my fondest memories.

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