Southwestern Community Mourns Loss of Trustee and Alumnus Matthew Fong '85
Former California State Treasurer Matthew K. Fong, a member of the Southwestern Law School Board of Trustees, passed away on June 1 after a long battle with cancer. Known for his genuine warmth, dignity and approachability as much as for his fiscal, political and global expertise, he was a trailblazer as one of the highest-ranking elected officials of Asian ancestry in the continental United States.
One of the law school's most prominent and active alumni since his graduation from the SCALE program in 1985, Mr. Fong had been recognized for his many contributions during his remarkable career in business, law, politics and education with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Southwestern's 96th Commencement ceremony on May 15 of this year.
"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, a fellow Southwestern alumnus and trustee.
Dean Bryant G. Garth said, "We are tremendously saddened by the loss of such a warm and insightful trustee - and an inspiration to us all. Matt Fong truly defined the ideals of professionalism to which we want each of our graduates to aspire."
A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and Air War College, Mr. Fong eventually retired from the Pentagon after 33 years of active and reserve military service with the rank of Lt. Colonel as the senior financial advisor to the U.S. Air Force. He earned his M.B.A. at Pepperdine University before completing his J.D. through the SCALE program at Southwestern in 1985 and becoming a member of the California State Bar.
Beginning in 1990 after several years as a practicing attorney with the firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, Mr. Fong provided strong fiscal stewardship in California for eight years, first as Vice Chairman of the State Board of Equalization, and then as State Treasurer when he was the first Asian American to hold statewide office. In that capacity, Mr. Fong managed the state's $28 billion investment pool and state bond sales of over $7 billion annually, and served on approximately 40 boards and commissions including CALPERS (California Public Employees Retirement System). At the federal level, he was a member of the National Association of State Treasurers for whom he chaired the Pacific Rim Investment Task Force. In 1995, he served on the Kemp Commission, a national tax commission charged with reviewing competing tax proposals before Congress.
In more recent years, Mr. Fong was President of Strategic Advisory Group, where his primary focus was in private equity, real estate and greater China-U.S. cross border investment. He was a managing director in Belstar LLC, and served on the boards of Trust Company of the West Mutual Funds, Seismic Warning Systems Inc. and American Grid, Inc. He was also Of Counsel to the law firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLC.
Mr. Fong served as a trustee of Southwestern, as a member of the Board of Regents of Pepperdine University and as a member of the boards of the Los Angeles Children's Hospital and the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History among numerous other organizations. He received Pepperdine University's 1992 Distinguished Alumnus Award and the Asian Professional Exchange's 1996 APEX Award for Excellence in Community Leadership, and in 1997 was honored as Southwestern's Alumnus of the Year.
At Southwestern's May 15 Commencement ceremony, the following tribute was read as he was awarded his honorary degree:
Matthew Kipling Fong, for more than three decades, you have dedicated yourself to the People of California and the nation as an Air Force officer, elected official, attorney, business leader, educator and humanitarian. Your service as California State Treasurer was enhanced by your astute business sense, commitment to innovative problem solving, and ability to bring people together. You have contributed significantly to the enhancement of higher education and the community as a Southwestern trustee, Pepperdine University Regent, and board member of numerous nonprofit organizations. Your inspiring leadership in the public and private sectors serves as a standard for aspiring legal professionals and civic leaders.
Mr. Fong's career and contributions to California have been noted in numerous obituaries in the print and broadcast media. Among them: