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The Sen. Hiram L. Fong Papers

About Hiram Fong (1906-2004)

Hiram Fong

Hiram Leong Fong was born on the island of Oahu in the Kalihi district of Honolulu on Oct. 15, 1906, the seventh of 11 children of Chinese immigrant parents Mr. and Mrs. Lum Fong. From an early age, he helped support his family, earning money by selling newspapers, shining shoes, and caddying on the golf course. After graduating from McKinley High School, he enrolled in the University of Hawaii, where he served as editor of the student newspaper Ka Leo. A class of 1930 Phi Beta Kappa graduate, he received his law degree from Harvard in 1935. Returning to Honolulu, Fong embarked on a career in public service that would last for well over 40 years. Elected to the Territorial House in 1938, his political career was put on hold during World War II, but he was handily re-elected in 1946, serving in the Territorial House for 14 years, including six as Speaker of the House.

In addition to his public career, in 1942 Sen. Fong established the law firm of Fong, Miho and Robinson. But he is even better known as a founder and driving force behind one of Hawaii's most successful economic huis: the Finance Factors family of companies, including Grand Pacific Life Insurance, and Finance Realty, one of the earliest developers of the Makakilo area of Leeward Oahu.

With the coming of statehood in 1959, Fong decided to run for the U.S. Senate, even though he wondered if he "would be considered too provincial, or too partisan." At least, he thought, "it would allow my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to say at some future date that their grandfather and great-grandfather was a serious candidate." Elected to three terms, Sen. Fong went on to serve under five presidents, until his retirement in 1976. A stalwart Republican, the senator was highly regarded for his work on immigration and naturalization laws and policy, and for encouraging relations with the People's Republic of China and other developing nations of Asia. Sen. Fong was also known for providing quick responses to his constituents' concerns, and his work in such areas as securing COLA increases for federal workers in Hawaii and Alaska. Well thought of by colleagues from both parties, Democratic senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia remarked upon Fong's retirement, "One can only speak of Hawaii in superlatives. Hawaii can, therefore, be proud that it has been represented so well by a man of superlatives, Sen. Hiram L. Fong."

After "retirement" in 1976, Sen. Fong remained active in business, as well as embarking on an ambitious new project: the transformation of 725 acres in Kahaluu into a garden, conservation site and tourist attraction. Divided into five areas named after the presidents under whom he served, Sen. Fong's Plantation and Gardens stands as a living testament to one of the very few multimillionaires and public servants to find pleasure in a day of "pick and shovel work."

The recipient of numerous honorary degrees, honors and awards nationally and internationally, Sen. Fong has continued his long advocacy of his UH alma mater, donating his books, congressional papers, and financial support to the university. In 2002, Sen. Fong received the UH Founders' Lifetime Achievement Award and was honored by being the subject of the premier exhibit in the new addition of the University of Hawaii Library.

--Compiled by Stan Schab
Center for Biographical Research
University of Hawaii
Sept. 20, 2002

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