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Happy Birthday March Fong Eu!

Suzanne Kai

March 29, 2013

Happy Birthday to March Fong Eu, a truly great lady. Today, March 29, the former U.S. Ambassador to Micronesia and Secretary of State of California turns 91. 

SUYIN FONG STEIN MARCH FONG EU SUZANNE JOE KAI PHOTO BY MAY HSU-1000x989Happy Birthday March! (LtoR) Suyin Fong Stein, March Fong Eu, Suzanne Joe Kai Photo by May Hsu March 23, 2013   

Last Saturday, her daughter Suyin and I celebrated her birthday early. Dr. Eu is in good heatlh, and maintains her natural sense of humor. (Click on the blue headline above to the full story)

As a successful Asian American in the public eye for decades as well as being a female in the male dominated world of politics, Dr. Eu has been one of the most popular political figures in California history.

She has inspired generations of people from all walks of life and backgrounds. She has always had a strong connection to serve the 'common man.' For decades, her official government office staff whisked her from event to event by limousine and plane, yet she's equally comfortable just getting on a public bus. 

MARCH-FONG-EU-IMAGE-SENATOR-EDWARD-KENNEDYSenator Edward Kennedy with Honorable March Fong EuDr. Eu was elected Secretary of State of California in 1974, becoming the first Asian American woman ever elected to a state constitutional office in the United States. 

Dr. Eu was elected Secretary of State five times, and the only woman to be elected to that position until 2006.

In 1978, she won in a landslide, winning every single county, including the traditionally Republican stronghold of Orange County, becoming one of only four Democrats to ever win the county in a statewide race in the past half century. 

She succeeded Jerry Brown who was Secretary of State from 1971 to 1975. Prior to her successful election for Secretary of State, in 1966, Dr. Fong was elected to four terms to the California State Assembly from the 15th District, representing Oakland and Castro Valley.

MARCH-FONG-EU-636x431-IMAGE---2---MARCH-SMILING-FROM-PODIUM-CLINTON-AT-TABLE---FRONT-WITH-FRAME---NO-GLASS---TOO-DIRTY-TO-CLEAN-300dpi-copyPresident Bill Clinton (lower left) looks on as March Fong Eu, Secretary of State of California delivers speech.Her influence as an American politician has crossed borders well beyond California, making her a perfect Ambassador to represent America. U.S. Secret Service agents came to my home one day, asking me personal questions about her.

I remember chuckling, and thinking about her wit and humor. A week later, President Bill Clinton appointed her to become United States Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia.

That was in 1994, she served as U.S. Ambassador of Micronesia until 1996. 

Our families have been intertwined for generations. My uncle, Justice Harry W. Low, another great pioneer, community leader and activist in San Francisco who is still as busy as ever as a judge, was born years later in the same house where Dr. Eu was born in Oakdale, California.

JUDGE HARRY LOW-MARCH FONG EU-2010-12-17Justice Harry W. Low and March Fong Eu
December 17, 2010 Photo by Suzanne Joe Kai

Not to digress, but I always wondered about the lucky feng shui with that Oakdale address - How two major Asian American leaders - Not just leaders, but change agents - could be born from the exact same address - in a small town in Central Valley, California. Justice Low also leads a storied life and career with numerous judicial, government and community roles. A lifelong civil rights advocate for people denied opportunities because of discrimination, he is a former Presiding Appellate Court Justice, California Court of Appeal, a former State Insurance Commissioner, and is now a busy JAMS mediator and arbitrator.  Coincidentally, Judge Low's birthday is also in the month of March, so this is a double birthday story.    

I have been honored to travel with Dr. Eu and her daughter Suyin to many places over the years, including visiting her when she was U.S. Ambassador to Micronesia, accompanying her with members of my family to the ceremony of the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997 from the United Kingdom to China known as the "Hong Kong Handover," and to the White House for President Bill Clinton's inauguration. 

I can personally say that when our plane landed in Hong Kong, she was greeted with the same diplomacy as other heads of state arriving from other nations to attend the Hong Kong Handover ceremonies. Of course, the State of California has the eighth largest economy in the world. Her popularity in Hong Kong felt as strong as her popularity in the U.S. - a phenonmenon, that NBA star Jeremy Lin is probably experiencing in Asia right now. 

MARCH FONG EU - IMAGE - 5 - BILL CLINTON - 600x562 copyU.S. Ambassador March Fong Eu with President Bill ClintonAfter working for seven years as a young 20-something broadcast television and radio news journalist in San Francisco, I got married and moved to my husband's ranch in Arizona, although we still kept a home in the San Francisco Bay Area. I continued doing television news features and documentaries. Dr. Eu not only visited me on the ranch, she delivered a puppy, a happy German Shephard named Rex to go with my new ranch life. Looking back, our families have been woven together like a colorful tapestry as the chapters in our lives have unfolded.  We have laughed together about many things over the years, and also grieved together over the untimely and tragic loss of her son Matt Fong, a year a half ago.

Beyond her humor and humilty, she is one smart cookie.  She has earned a Bachelor of Science in dentistry from the University of California, Berkeley, a Master of Arts from Mills College, and a doctorate in education from Stanford University's School of Education.

When I attended an event with thousands of people a little over a year ago at Mills College to inaugurate its new president, the speaker named several notable graduates who had gone on to make significant contributions to our world. The names were delivered with solemn reverence as symbols of inspiration to the many young members in the audience that they too could someday achieve greatness - one of the graduates' names proudly announced was U.S. Ambassador March Fong Eu.    

 MARCH-FONG-EU-400x307-REAGAN-LAUGHING-jpgGovernor Ronald Reagan with March Fong Eu, Secretary of State of California