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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 22, 2017
Caren Lagomarsino, former spokesperson
IRVINE – March Fong Eu, who served four terms as an Assemblywoman from the Oakland Bay area and 19 years as California Secretary of State, passed away last evening (Dec. 21) in Irvine from complications from a fall and subsequent surgery. Eu, 95, resided in southern California for the past two decades. She was a third-generation Californian.
Originally elected to the Alameda County Board of Education (1960-1966), she served as Assemblywoman for the 15th Assembly District from 1966 through December of 1974. In 1974, Eu was elected California Secretary of State, serving in that position until she resigned in early 1994 to accept an appointment by President Bill Clinton to become Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia. Upon retiring from that position, she took up painting and calligraphy until that avocation was cut short due to an eye injury.
Dr. Eu was a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (1943), earned a Masters from Mills College (1947) and an Ed. D. in Education from Stanford University (1954). Prior to entering the political arena, she had served as a dental hygienist and educator in the Oakland public schools. She cut her teeth on political involvement while serving as President of the American Dental Hygienists Association.
A recognized ground breaker, she was the first woman Secretary of State and the first person of Chinese ancestry to be elected to statewide office in the United States when she won her contest for Secretary of State. While likely best known for her legislation to ban pay toilets in publicly funded buildings, she ushered in voter registration by mail, reduced deadlines for voter registration, a streamlined business filings process for corporations, enforcement of notary public laws and protections, and the successful building of a Secretary of State complex that provided a showcase for the California State Archives and the California Museum. In her official autobiography, she listed a number of “firsts” she was proud to have achieved, from being the first woman to serve as a division chair in UC San Francisco’s Dental Hygiene Department to being the first woman and first Asian-American to serve as Governor when, on July 14, 1976, all the other officials in the line of succession were out of the state.
Many did not know her personal history, which began with her birth on March 29, 1922, as one of four children born to Yuen Kong and Shiu Shee in the California central valley town of Oakdale, where her parents ran a hand laundry and spoke virtually no English. She recognized at an early age that education would propel her out of poverty, and studied hard to move up in the world. She faced discrimination, but used that as motivation rather than a deterrent. Tips she learned during childhood were carried throughout her life, including re-using anything possible – repurposing and recycling far before it became popular, customary and environmentally sound. She also regularly said she learned that when life gave her lemons, to make lemonade.
She is survived by her daughter Suyin Stein of Sebastopol (husband Jim), four grandchildren (Alaric and Melody Stein and Jade Fong and Matthew Fong, Jr.) as well as numerous nieces and nephews. Her late son, Matthew “Kip” Fong was a former State Treasurer.
Services are pending.