Thursday, June 2, 2011
Attorney, Former State Treasurer Matt Fong Dies at 57
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Matt Fong, a Los Angeles attorney who served as state treasurer from 1995 to 1999 and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, died yesterday of cancer.
He was 57.
The adopted son of March Fong Eu, a Democrat who served as California secretary of state from 1975 to 1994, he switched parties and pursued a political career as a Republican after managing his mother’s successful 1982 campaign.
His wife, Paula Fong, told The Associated Press that he died yesterday morning at their home in Pasadena, and that he will be buried in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he attended the Air Force Academy.
At the time of his death, he was special counsel with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP. He clerked at the firm while attending Southwestern Law School and joined it as an associate in 1985.
He spent the first two years there as a litigator, then later helped develop the firm’s Pacific Rim business practice.
Fong made his first bid for election to office in 1990, running for state controller but losing to Gray Davis. But Pete Wilson, who Fong credited with having talked him into that race, won the governorship that year and named him to the SBOE to succeed a member who had been convicted on corruption charges.
He recruited a Sheppard Mullin partner, Charles W. “Tim” McCoy, to serve as his chief deputy and chief of staff, a post McCoy held until Wilson appointed him to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1993.
McCoy told the MetNews yesterday that Fong had fought cancer “courageously” since doctors discovered “a lump in his mouth the size of an egg” in 1994. The jurist also said he was not surprised that Fong wished to be buried in Colorado Springs.
An Air Force cadet, he noted, lives by an honor code, declaring “I will not lie, cheat, or steal or tolerate anyone who does.”
Fong, McCoy said, “lived by that code throughout his later years.” He was “an extraordinarily honorable individual” who built a legacy of success in the legal and business worlds, and of service to the state and the nation, as well as to his alma mater, Southwestern.
Fong, McCoy added, “really did make a difference for good.”
Fong, whose mother won an Oakland-area Assembly seat in 1966, once told a reporter that as a youngster, he wanted to follow his father into the Air Force, not his mother into politics.
He originally hoped to pursue space travel—he abandoned the idea after he “just didn’t connect” with the academy’s course in astronautical engineering,” he explained—before deciding to become a pilot. But he eventually made the “life-changing decision” to pursue law as a career rather than commit to an additional eight years of active duty
He became a reserve officer, serving at the Pentagon before retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He entered law school after running his mother’s third term campaign, participating in Southwestern’s two-year SCALE program.
He was honored by the school with an honorary degree at commencement May 15. In a brief address, he recalled that his wife gave birth to their daughter, Jade Fong, seven days into classes, raising the newborn along with their then 3-year-old son, Matthew Fong II.
He credited the school with teaching him “how to ‘think as a lawyer’” and told graduates:
“Now as fellow Southwestern graduates, we are survivors. Your future will be diverse and difficult but you will survive! Now, don’t’ forget to come back and give.”
Former District Attorney Robert Philibosian—a Southwestern trustee, as was Fong—said the terminally ill honoree showed “a remarkably strong spirit” and received “thunderous applause from the audience that filled the Shrine Auditorium for the commencement ceremony.”
Fong had his only successful election campaign as a candidate in 1994, winning election as state treasurer. He held the post for four years, passing up a re-election bid to run against U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in 1998.
After losing that race, he turned his attention largely to business, founding a consulting firm, The Strategic Advisory Group. He also served on corporate boards and was appointed by then-President George W. Bush to head the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Advisory Board.
Sheppard Mullin partner Richard Brunette recalled Fong yesterday as “a consummate gentleman, universally friendly to staff and Lawyers” who “brought a blend of fiscal, political and global expertise to his public-private sector practice.”
Fong was also remembered by officeholders on both sides of the political aisle.
Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement praising him for having “lived a life of service.” Controller John Chiang, like Brown a Democrat, called him “a distinguished fiscal leader of California who served residents of this state well” and “a friend who bravely battled cancer for many years.”
Supervisor Michael Antonovich said in a statement:
“Matt was a great friend, a dedicated public servant and a strong leader in the Republican Party. In fact, I helped Matt 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.”
Another Republican, Supervisor Don Knabe, called Fong “a model public servant, principled and committed to representing the peoples’ best interest,” adding:
“A longtime leader in California politics, he was respected on both sides of the aisle for his hard work, dedication and sense of duty to all those he served. He was a loyal friend and supporter and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Paula, and their two children during this difficult time.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company