Hiram L. Fong, a son of illiterate Chinese immigrants who overcame poverty to become a millionaire businessman and the first Asian-American elected to the U.S. Senate, died at his home in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2004. He was 97. He was born Ah Leong Fong in Honolulu, the seventh of 11 children. His father was an indentured servant on a sugar plantation; his mother a maid. As a young man, he changed his first name in honor of Hiram Bingham, a 19th-century missionary in Hawaii and a fellow Congregationalist. His first job was at age 4 picking beans for 4 cents a 100-pound sack. He graduated from the University of Hawaii and later Harvard. A Republican, Fong was elected to the Senate in 1959 after the former U.S. territory achieved statehood. He was known for a blend of moderate social liberalism and hawkish military stands. His support for civil-rights legislation often put him at odds with many in his party in the 1960s, but he refused to alter his views.
AP/ The Advertiser, Bruce Asato, file