Former State Treasurer Matt Fong Dies at 57

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Rafu Staff and Wire Reports

Former state Treasurer Matt Fong, also an ex-vice chairman of the state Board of Equalization and a one-time U.S. Senate candidate, died Wednesday in Pasadena after a battle with cancer.

Matt Fong

Fong, 57, was the son of former Secretary of State March Fong Eu and served as treasurer from 1995-99. He ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in 1998.

“Matt Fong has had a distinguished career of public service in California and I am very sorry to hear of his passing,” Boxer said. “In our Senate race years ago, Matt was a strong competitor and we debated passionately, but we always had respect for one another. He will be missed and I send my deepest condolences to his family.”

A native of Oakland, Fong attended the Air Force Academy and earned degrees from both Pepperdine University and Southwestern University School of Law. He ran unsuccessfully for state controller in 1990, losing to incumbent Gray Davis. After being appointed to the Board of Equalization by Gov. Pete Wilson, Fong defeated Democrat Phil Angelides to become state treasurer in 1994. Angelides would come back to defeat Fong four years later.

“He was a thoroughly decent, good man and one of the more talented public servants that I have been privileged to work with,” said Wilson.

“Matt Fong lived a life of service,” Gov. Jerry Brown said. “He served his country as an Air Force reservist and, later, he served the people of California as their treasurer. It is with great sadness that Anne and I learned of his passing. On behalf of all Californians, I wish to express gratitude for the service that Mr. Fong provided to our great state during his term as treasurer.

“Our thoughts are with his wife, Paula, and their two children, Jade and Matthew, during this time. I also wish to express my deepest condolences to Mr. Fong’s mother, former California Secretary of State March Fong Eu, with whom I served in Sacramento from 1974 to 1983.”

State Controller John Chiang said, “Matt Fong was a California fiscal leader who served residents of this state with distinction. He had a great passion for public service and a great sense of humor. He also was a friend who bravely battled cancer for many years … He will be deeply missed by my wife, Terry, and me.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe called Fong “a model public servant, principled and committed to representing the peoples’ best interest.”

Supervisor Mike Antonovich said he helped Fong switch from a Democrat to a Republican “because of his strong beliefs in the principles of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan — family, faith, fiscal responsibility and a strong defense.”

“Consummate Gentleman”

Fong was a special counsel with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP in Los Angeles, where he was an associate before becoming a member of the Board of Equalization. After serving as treasurer, he returned to the firm and also pursued several other business endeavors.

“Matt was an excellent transactional lawyer who began his career with the firm in 1985,” said Bob Zuber, Sheppard Mullin’s executive director. “Our firm is deeply saddened with his passing.”

“Matt was a consummate gentleman, universally friendly to staff and lawyers. He brought a blend of fiscal, political and global expertise to his public-private sector practice,” said Sheppard Mullin partner Richard Brunette.

Fong was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the Southwestern Law School commencement ceremony on May 15. In his speech, he mentioned Sheppard Mullin as the place that developed his legal skills and Gordon Hampton as being a great mentor.

“Matt addressed the audience with a remarkably strong spirit. His words were very moving and inspiring. The response was thunderous applause from the audience that filled the Shrine Auditorium for the commencement ceremony,” stated Robert Philibosian, Sheppard Mullin of counsel, who was present as a member of Southwestern Law School’s Board of Trustees.

At Pepperdine University, where Fong served on the Board of Regents, President Andrew K. Benton said,  “Matt was among the most courageous people I have ever known. He approached everything in life with enthusiasm, tremendous energy, intellect, and integrity. He was a great friend and will be deeply missed by all of us who were fortunate to know him.”

Fong was also remembered by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who said, “A devoted family man, Matt is a dedicated public servant, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and pioneer and trailblazer for the Asian Pacific American community and all Americans. Throughout his career, he mentored and cultivated future generations of leaders to lead our country. His many contributions to our country and society will never be forgotten.”

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1 Comment

  1. Dorothy Jue Lee on

    My deepest sympathy is extended to Matt Fong’s family. He was a great friend and helped me on many occasions while I served on the California State Board of Education. He leaves us a legacy of service to family, to country and to education to which we must carry on. Let us serve future generations as he would wish us to. He was taken from us way to soon. As Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii wrote in Aloha Oe, Farewell to thee until we meet again. Aloha, Dorothy Jue Lee, CA Board of Education 1990-1996

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