Friday, October 1, 1999

100 Who Made A Difference

Star Hiram L. Fong Star

Star-Bulletin file photo
Hiram Fong was the first U.S. senator of Asian ancestry
and the first Chinese American in Congress.

Former U.S. senator
‘man of the Pacific’

By Helen Altonn


YOU'D think former Republican U.S. Sen. Hiram L. Fong would be coasting after a lifetime of achievements and honors. No way -- not the man who began working at age 4 picking algarroba beans for cattle feed.

The distinguished political, business and civic leader goes to his Finance Factors office every morning. Then he heads outdoors, working afternoons and weekends to build up his tropical Plantation and Gardens in Kahaluu.

The Kalihi boy who made history as the first U.S. senator of Asian ancestry and the first Chinese American in Congress looks forward to his 93rd birthday on Oct. 15.

And instead of reflecting on his past, he looks to future challenges.

He had been pondering a driving range on his 725-acre tropical garden, which he proudly points out is larger than 400-acre Waikiki. But now he's thinking to "build a Garden of Memories so people who come to Hawaii will plant a coconut tree, for example ... and another Garden for Peace, Aloha and Friendship."

The seventh of 11 children of poor Chinese immigrants, Fong has been called "the man of the Pacific" and "personification of the American dream."

He picked algarroba beans until he was 7 to help his family. Then he shined shoes, sold newspapers, caught and sold fish, delivered poi and caddied.

He worked his way through college as a bill collector, a college correspondent for the Honolulu Advertiser and a tour guide for Asian temples. He also was a Pearl Harbor shipyard clerk.

After graduating from the University of Hawaii, Fong earned his law degree at Harvard and formed the law firm of Fong, Miho, Choy and Robinson. He served in the Territorial Legislature for 14 years and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1959, serving until retirement in 1977.

He was board chairman for more than a dozen companies and foundations: Finance Enterprises, Finance Factors, Grand Pacific Life Insurance Ltd., Finance Investment Ltd. and Hawaiian Factors Ltd.

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