Matthew Kipling Fong, a former California state treasurer who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1998, died Wednesday at his home in Pasadena after a long bout with skin cancer. He was 57.
Fong, a Republican, was the scion of a political family with deep roots in state politics.
His mother, March Fong Eu, a Democrat, was elected to the state Assembly in 1966 and served as California's secretary of state from 1975 to 1994. She was later appointed U.S. ambassador to Micronesia by President Clinton.
Fong was born in Alameda on Nov. 20, 1953, and was reared in Oakland by his adopted parents, Eu and Chester Fong.
He was first exposed to politics working on his mother's campaigns. "When I was growing up, I remember every day after junior high for a couple of years, we rang doorbells," he said in a 1998 interview. "We walked almost every street in Oakland. We gave out those ugly potholders, and those bottle caps that never fit on any bottle."
He decided to register as a Republican in 1986, despite his family's Democratic Party ties. "The toughest part of the transition was telling my mother," he said. "She thought I was joking."
Four years later, Fong was encouraged by Pete Wilson, then a U.S. senator who was running for governor, to run for state controller against Democrat Gray Davis. Fong lost that race, but was later appointed to the Board of Equalization by Wilson, making Fong a rising star in state GOP politics.
Wilson remembered Fong on Wednesday as "a man of courage, of great intellect and a wonderful heart. He was a thoroughly decent, good man and one of the more talented public servants that I have been privileged to work with. I will miss him greatly."
In 1994, Fong again ran for statewide office, capturing the Republican nomination for state treasurer. Boosted by Wilson's landslide reelection and a national Republican tide, Fong defeated Democrat Phil Angelides, becoming the first Asian American Republican to hold statewide office.
In 1998, Fong bested car alarm magnate Darrell Issa in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, despite being outspent by more than 3 to 1, but lost a general election to Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. "In our Senate race years ago, Matt was a strong competitor and we debated passionately, but we always had respect for one another," Boxer said in a statement Wednesday.
After leaving elected office, Fong developed an interest in the issue of pensions, serving as a financial consultant and investor. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Fong to the board of a federal agency that helps administer pensions of more than 1.3 million private-sector workers and retirees.
Fong graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1975, and after serving on active duty until 1980 retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. His love of flying continued after leaving the academy. Fong was a licensed flight instructor and also was licensed to fly gliders.
He earned a master's degree in business administration at Pepperdine University, where he served on the board of regents until his death, and a law degree at Southwestern University School of Law, now known as Southwestern Law School.
In addition to his mother, he is survived by his wife, Paula; and their two children, Matthew Jr. and Jade.
Anthony York, Los Angeles Times | June 02, 2011
We lost a friend this past June and in a larger sense the world lost a friend too. Matthew Kipling Fong, 'Kip' to his USAFA classmates, lost a courageous battle with cancer on June 1st, 2011.
Kip was born on Nov. 20, 1953, and grew up in Oakland, CA. He came from a political family; his mother March Fong Eu was a California Assemblywoman, California Secretary of State, and U.S. Ambassador. Kip's father was an Air Force Reserve officer and dentist. Both are still living in California.
Kip was a 29er, an integral member of the leadership team that led 29th Squadron to victory in USAFA's competition for Honor Squadron in 1975. He was a friend and confidant, one who sought the greater good and saw his destiny as leadership in the political realm.
Shortly after graduation, during assignment at Luke AFB, Kip met the love of his life Paula Lee, and it was clear to all that they were destined for greatness together. Soon thereafter they married and Paula became and remained his steadfast friend and helper for life. Over the years Paula and their two children, Matthew, Jr. and Jade, became part of our extended Air Force family and our dear friends.
Kip served as an information systems officer during his Air Force years, but we knew he was yearning for something beyond military service – service in the public sector. So it was no surprise when he left active duty in1980 and enrolled in Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. After graduating from Southwestern and passing the bar, Kip practiced with the legal firm Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton in Los Angles as a springboard into a political career.
Matt (as he was known during these later years) ran for California State Controller in 1990 against Gray Davis. He lost that election but learned volumes about campaigns and elections. He was appointed to the California Board of Equalization by Governor Pete Wilson and served there until 1994 when he was elected California State Treasurer. In 1998 he ran against incumbent Barbara Boxer for the U.S. Senate, narrowly missing an historic upset. During his political years Matt was strongly supported by national political leaders including Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott and Jack Kemp.
After his stint in politics, Matt founded Strategic Advisory Group. There he served as a Director for TCW Group's mutual funds and on the boards of several technology companies. President George W. Bush appointed Matt as Chairman of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Advisory Board. He also served as a Regent of Pepperdine University and a Trustee of Southwestern University School of Law. In May of 2011, Matt was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law by Southwestern. In the midst of it all Matt remained in the Air Force Reserves, retiring in 2004 a Lt. Col.
All of us who knew Kip well knew he was destined for greatness. From the beginning he lived life large and saw boundless possibilities. He held a bedrock faith in God and saw his mission in life as an extension of his faith. During his struggle with cancer, he was a leader among fellow cancer patients, helping many obtain care and treatment that improved their quality of life. Even in a life struggle he was a giver.
Kip's family, Paula, Matt Jr., and Jade, will always be members of the 29ers from the class of 1975. We miss Kip greatly but his character lives on in those who knew him.
K.C. Schwarz and Kip's Wife, Paula | July 2011
Today Kip lost his struggle with cancer, passing away late this morning in Pasadena. A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of spending time with Kip and sharing the lyrics of a song – paraphrased from Isaiah 40:31. They are:
– K. C. Schwarz
I'm deeply saddened to hear the news. Kip's heroic struggle was an inspirational reminder of the power of the human spirit. He was clearly loved and will be remembered by his family and a huge circle of friends and colleagues. . . . My thoughts and prayers are with Paula.
– Mark Wells
Kip and Paula have been on our minds and in our hearts. Kip's struggle reminds us that our lives are all so fragile. But our vulnerability is exactly how God intended to make us, in His image and likeness. Through his suffering, Kip has been following in the footsteps of the greatest exemplar we can have.
– Marc & Cheryl Hallada
Kip was one of the first classmates I met at the Academy (he and I were in Guts Squadron in BCT), and was always available whenever I wanted to talk to him or visit his family (we were both from California).
– Jim Carlson
Kip's room was across from mine during BCT and a good friend throughout Doolie year.
Memorable was his resolve to outlast some of the most sadistic upperclassmen in 19. They went after him because of his mother (then the California Secretary of State and head of the very liberal state Democratic Party) and because of his race. To be "trained" for that which cannot be changed must have been perceived as justification for quitting.
He went on to become a Reagan Republican; Thanksgiving dinner conversation must have been lively!
When he completed his term as treasurer (the last time the budget was balanced was the day he left office), I worked in his US Senate bid. Even Boxer could not resist using race against him in the final days of the campaign to erase his lead.
Matthew "Kip" Fong, you are an exemplar of perseverance, conviction, and self control in the memories of those who had the honor of knowing you.
– Tim O'Connell
I have in my hand a thank-you note from Kip dated 28 Jun 98 in response to a series of columns I had sent him as potential ammo in his effort to unseat Barbara Boxer. Wish I coulda done more...
– Gary Exelby
I got to work with Kip when I was in AF Legislative Affairs. He was one of our IMAs and brought his political smarts and network to play on legislation and funding for our Air Force on Capitol Hill. We spent many hours working “engagement plans” and consuming many bottles of…water! He was big into being healthy and was concerned that I had acquired a taste for other adult beverages. I gave up adult beverages and sodas for 6 months and lost 25 pounds. RIP and God Bless – see you on the rejoin.
– Mike Anderson
I always remember him from working SERE. He did many of the Asian-sounding propaganda broadcasts we constantly aired on KPDR. In another instance, one of the interrogators came to us and said he had a Korean (or Chinese?) student who claimed he neither spoke nor understood any English. So we sent in Kip, who completed the interrogation, completely surprising and blowing away the student! RIP, Comrade Fong, we’ll all miss you.
– John M