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Senator Hiram L. Fong

First Asian American elected to the U.S. Senate


Eulogy by Jon Miho

                                                Remembering Senator Fong

Now I know it isn’t politically correct to talk about race in this day and age—but I’m not a politician. Sen. Fong was a son of immigrants who were illiterate. He formed a law partnership with my father, a Japanese American, in 1938. My father also had immigrant parents who were illiterate. So a second generation Chinese lawyer, the firs in his family to go to college-certainly the first to go to law school-and a second generation Japanese lawyer, who also was the first in his family to go to college and law school, formed a law partnership in 1938—both from poor families who could not pay for their education. So they both worked their way through college and law school. Both had faced insults and discrimination growing up in a Hawaii that was dominated by the Big Five. It is easy to see their pride in being one of the first Asian Americans to become lawyers in Hawaii . They wanted success, and to bring honor to their families, and pride and respect to their communities. They wanted to demonstrate their equality.

1938—Fong & Miho I believe that it became a real firm in 1942. My father was 4-F, he couldn’t join the 442nd because of his age and because of his eyes—very poor eyesight. As I understand it, Sen. Fong was an officer in the Hawaii National Guard so, of course, was activated to serve in the Army after the outbreak of World War II. The Senator needed someone to service his clients to keep his practice going while he served full-time in the Army. He later told my father that his wife Ellyn told him to hire my father because he could be trusted and that he would be loyal. I believe that to be true of my father and I remember him telling me that he and Hiram had never had a fight. They treated each other with respect, courtesy and loyalty all their lives.

The Senator once told me that a bunch of his high school friends at McKinley High School got together and sent money every month when he was at Harvard Law School. They were his friends and they were investing in their future—the future of Hawaii . They all picked him to succeed—someone who would be able to help “the Chinese community” to a better life in Hawaii .

It is difficult for us to remember and even think about the Hawaii of the 1930s and ‘40s. Hawaii was run by the Big Five—Orientals were not allowed in the Pacific Club, the Oahu Country Club, the Outrigger Canoe Club and I’m sure many other clubs and groups.

There were no major Asian companies—every one of our Asian companies was a mom-and-pop operation or a dream by an ambitious young man. My father and Sen. Fong grew up in a Hawaii where they were second-class citizens. Insults and discrimination against Orientals was common and normal. It was a fact of life that you had to be better than the haole to stay even. You had to work harder, stay longer, be smarter to get ahead in Hawaii . They formed Fong Miho Choy and Chuck, a firm that produced two members of the state House of Representatives, a U.S. Attorney, a federal District Court judge, a Family Court judge, a judge of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and of course, a U.S. Senator. Not bad for a firm that never grew beyond eight or ten people.

When I was a boy about 10 or 12, I was at the Fongs’ Alewa Heights home with a bunch of other kids to go out to the beach house for a party. We all jumped in the care with the Senator and Mrs. Fong. Halfway down the hill, Ellyn Fong said that she forgot something for the party and that we had to go back. The Senator said not a word and turned the car around to go back to the house. This may not seem remarkable, except that this happened two more times that day. He never changed expressions, didn’t say a harsh word and kept turning the car around. This was a remarkable scene to a 12 year old boy. I had never seen such control and patience in anyone before.

In 1964, I was 21 years old, a recent college graduate and home for the summer before law school. Hiram, Jr. had invited a bunch of us to go down to the beach house to go water skiing. So I went down there with a bunch of guys and girls to have a great time at the beach house. After parking the car, as I walked towards the house, I saw an old man in a big straw hat, sitting on the grass, pulling weeds. I didn’t think much of it until I passed by him and realized that the millionaire, chairman of the board of Finance Factors, senior senator from Hawaii was the yardman. As we spent the day swimming and water-skiing at the house, the Senator spent his day out in the yard with his bucket, pulling weeds out of his lawn, happy to be the yardman.

I went to work for the Senator in Washington as a legislative aide. Because of our long family history, I was given additional special duties as a legislative assistant. In those days Chesapeake Bay crab sold for about $12 a bushel. I guessed that a bushel held about three dozen crabs and they were readily available to buy. Anyway, the Senator wanted to go crabbing. He thought that it could be a weekend sport for him to pursue and I was going to arrange his outing. Anyway, we hired a guide—we found out that you catch these crabs with crab traps, not with nets like in Hawaii . And, we found out that it was cold and wet out on the Chesapeake Bay . More than that, we got in trouble with real fishermen because we pulled up some crab pots that didn’t belong to us. Anyway, we ended up with six or seven crabs and at a cost of a couple hundred dollars. He took the crabs home and ate them that night, told me that they were really sweet, but never asked me to do that again.

Finally, I’ll tell you an office story. In Washington , we had some staff that didn’t do their jobs very well. Anyway, in my youthful arrogance, I took it upon myself to tell the Senator that “X” was doing a bad job and was hurting the senator by all his mistakes and that for the sake of his own reputation and the efficiency and morale of the office, that this person should be fired. The Senator patiently listened to me, then looked me in the eye and said, “Jon, you never take away a man’s rice bowl.” He later found that man a new job—and at a raise.

I remember him as a patient and humble man, a person who helped people wherever he could, a man who seemed surprised by all the affection and respect that he generated in people. He was an honorable man who brought honor to himself, his family, his state, his country and his race. We will not often see his type of man again.

Eulogy by Emily Mitchell

Gung Gung

In the remarks from the other speakers, you’ve heard about Hiram Fong the Businessman, Lawyer, and Statesman, but when he came home from Washington with his long list of accomplishments in tow, my cousins and I were toddlers. At home, Hiram Fong was our dad, our uncle, and, to the 10 of us grandchildren and 1 beautiful great-granddaughter, our Gung Gung. And it is that man that Janna and I would like to celebrate now.

I’d like to touch on a few of Gung Gung’s key traits which defined him to me.

First, Hard Work – 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.

An endless quest for Knowledge – In his 70’s, Gung Gung decided to teach himself to read and write Chinese, as a “hobby”. Every night, with his magnifying glass, he peered at his dog-eared Chinese textbook, unswayed by the fact that no matter how much he studied, there would still be words which eluded him.  Home from college and my own Chinese classes, I would face endless vocabulary quizzes as he pointed to household objects or asked me to translate a phrase from the newspaper. His patience and pure delight at learning a new character and dissecting its etymology pushed me to continue to study the language that often frustrated me. His pride when I had finally mastered the language of my ancestors and built my career in China was matched only by my own realization of how much I too, had loved the learning process.

Steadfast Love – My grandparents are one of those truly great love stories. Just a few weeks ago, my cousin Janna and I asked Gung Gung how he and Popo had met. “At a church picnic”, he replied, and continued, “I loved her the first minute I saw her.” A steadfast and strong love that survived a 9-year courtship spanning China , Hawaii , and Boston ; 66 years of marriage, 4 children, 10 grandchildren, and 1 great grandchild later, they were content just sitting quietly, feeling each others’ reassuring presence nearby. Their devotion to each other and to the family that they raised is has been translated into the love I feel around me now, surrounded by our family today.

Stature – Gung Gung was a gentleman of a different generation – one not rocked by a post 9/11 sense of uncertainty. He was a man of strong beliefs; to him, things were black and white. He lived by his moral code and view of the world, and did not deviate.  While frustrating at times, especially when entreating whichever grandkid was within earshot to “go to law school, as law is a stable profession” or to “study Chinese, because one quarter of the world speaks it” , we had no doubt as to where he stood. He was the pillar, the patriarch, the glue that held our family together. Sometimes looming larger than life, at other times fading into the backdrop in his old straw hat and work shoes, but always there.

Eulogy by Janna Fong

Gung Gung

As Emily stated, we really want to share with you just how wonderful our grandfather was.  He was the most generous kind hearted person, and the best grandfather a granddaughter could have asked for. 

He always had the best attitude, no matter how hard the circumstance, he always seemed to make the most and the best out of everything.  Even as he laid ill and weak in the hospital he never failed to crack a joke while wearing the biggest smile on his face. 

He was also the most determined person I know, something that my cousin just touched upon.  Not only did he achieve all his success from extremely meager beginnings, even up to his last days he was determined to get better so he could go back into the office and work. 

He was so generous.  He gave us everything we could ever need and more than we could ever want.  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.

He loved and cared for his family so much.  When he was in hospital last, everyday at the end of my visit I would tell him that I loved him, and everyday he would say, “I love you too.  I love all my grandchildren.”  One day the nurse over heard him and said, “Aw, what a good grandpa!”

And he truly was.

Gung Gung, I will miss you so much.  Thank you for all that you were, and for all that you have given to us.  I know that your legacy will continue to live on through the values that you have instilled in us, and I know that even though you are in heaven, you will still manage to watch over and take care of all of us.

Thank you.

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