I was touched by Joel Fox’s tribute here at Fox and
Hounds. Largely the word that comes to my
mind when I think of Matt Fong is – respect.
Matt earned the respect of taxpayers and policy makers who
cared about responsible governing. He embodied
the ‘good’ in government serving with distinction whether he was elected or
appointed. Public service and generosity
defined Matt Fong. He knew that he served
"at will" – that his job was to protect taxpayer dollars and give his very best
advice to guard state finances. Respect
for taxpayers catapulted him to notable national posts requiring financial
expertise and savvy. One thing was for
sure: Taxpayers could trust Matt Fong.
I met Matt through several of my Asian American mentors and
friends including former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and former
Presidential appointees Joe Yew, Walter Liang, Clayton Fong, Elsa Cheung, and the
late John Tsu. These individuals I
respect called him "friend."
A cup of coffee with Matt was accompanied by words of counsel,
respect for your point of view and a glimpse of his long-term vision. He helped me when I sought to be the
Secretary of Labor’s representative for Region IX in the Bush 43
Administration. I never forgot his
generosity, advice and guidance. I became
a greater public servant as a result.
During my time as Labor Representative, I sat in a living
room in Fremont at the home of the head of the Chamber of Commerce who welcomed
Matt to give a talk. He was in town to
help a would-be Alameda County official from Oakland ascend to higher
office. The official was a Democrat but
Matt (a notable Republican) helped him because he thought he’d be a good public
steward. He cared about Oakland and knew
the man would represent the neighborhood where his family grew up well.
I had a policy discussion with Matt when he was appointed by
the President as Chairman of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation. I wondered what would happen if the current
situation with our public employees continued to get out of control. I recall his reasoned explanation that while
long-term solutions seemed complicated, our problems would escalate if we
didn’t focus on solving problems today.
Imagine if decision makers had yielded his advice rather than kicking
the can down the road.
One of the things I appreciated most about Matt was the
honor and dignity he showed for his mother March Fong Yu’s legacy – respect for
the mother, the mentor, the leader. It
guided Matt through many of his political decisions. It shaped his character.
I sat for a cup of coffee with Matt in late 2006 in the
South Bay. I told him I was
contemplating a run for office in Assembly District 15, his mother’s former
district. His advice was calm, careful
and deliberate. I penned every word and
left with a commitment that he would serve as Honorary Chairman of my
campaign. What a tremendous gesture of
honor that was.
In 2008, I visited Orange County for dinner with Matt and
his beautiful wife Paula. It’s an evening I’ll always remember because I walked
away with a good book, a bountiful dinner, friendly laughs, and thoughtful,
‘Respect’ is not just earned. It is valued.
Matt Fong enjoyed respect because he respected others. ‘Duty, honor, and
country’ were not just words but an activism and zest he gave throughout his
life. The first day of June was a sad
day when he passed gracefully at the young age of 57.
Matt Fong’s legacy will be remembered as one of only a few
of the most gifted and respected public servants. I shall truly miss him.