Memorial Tributes: Volume 26
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  • FUJIO MATSUDA (1924-2020)



    FUJIO MATSUDA, president of the University of Hawai’i (UH) from 1974 to 1984, died on August 23, 2020, at the age of 95.

    Fujio was born in Honolulu on October 18, 1924, to Yoshio and Shimo Matsuda, who emigrated to Hawai’i from Yamaguchi Prefecture in Japan more than 100 years ago to work on the sugar plantations. They married and settled down in old Kaka’ako on the island of O’ahu. Fujio, the third of four children, was proud of his Kaka’ako roots. His family’s local saimin stand attracted people from all walks of life from the 1930s to the 1950s. During these early years, Fujio’s parents taught him to live according to traditional Japanese values such as shojiki (sincerity, honesty), gambare (to persevere), nasake (empathy for those in challenging situations), kansha (gratitude), doryoku (hard work), and many others.

    Fujio attended Pohukaina Elementary and Washington Intermediate. In 1942, he graduated from McKinley High School, where he met Amy Saiki, his future wife of 71 years. He volunteered to become a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s 232nd Combat Engineer Company in World War II, eventually earning the Bronze Star with the 291st Field Artillery Observation Battalion. After his military service, he studied at UH, then transferred to and graduated from Rose Polytechnic Institute in Indiana in 1949. He married Amy Saiki in June 1949. He earned a doctorate in science (structural engineering) from MIT in 1952 and remained there as a researcher for two years. He then took a position with the University of Illinois as a researcher and assistant professor.

    In 1955, Fujio came home to Hawai’i, where he taught in the UH Engineering Department, eventually serving as department chair until 1962. That same year, he was picked by Hawai’i Gov. John Burns to lead the state Department of Transportation, where he directed a large expansion of state highways, airports, and harbors during a period of rapid growth. It was this work that earned Fujio election into the National Academy of Engineering and the Award for Exceptional Public Service from the US Department of Transportation. He served as the state transportation director until 1973, when then UH President Harlan Cleveland asked Fujio to return to UH as vice president of business affairs.

    Cleveland resigned as UH president in December 1973, effective the summer of 1974. In July 1974, the Board of Regents appointed Fujio the ninth president of UH. He was the first and only UH president of Asian descent. He was also the first Asian-American president of a major university in the country. Under his leadership, the first systemwide strategic plan was developed, and the East-West Center was separated from the university. Built under his presidency were the UH law school and its library, the Center for Korean Studies, the marine sciences building, the athletic complex and swimming pool, the Institute for Astronomy, Gilmore Hall, and the art building.

    Fondly nicknamed “Fuj,” which later became “Fudge,” Fujio served as president of UH until May 1984. He served as executive director of the Research Corporation of the University of Hawai’i (RCUH) from 1984 to 1994. He remained active in the community, helping to form the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research and serving as its chairman. He was a member of other boards, including RCUH and the Japan-American Institute of Management Science. In 2003, he joined a volunteer team that raised $9 million to save the Japanese Cultural Center in Honolulu from having to sell its building and possibly disband. In 2004, he was honored as a “Living Treasure” by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaiʻi. Honolulu Community College’s Fujio Matsuda Technology Training and Education Center is also named after the late president.

    Fujio was preceded in death by his father, Yoshio Matsuda; his mother, Shimo (Iwasaki) Matsuda; and his beloved sisters, Janet Matsuda, Betty Matsuda, and Nancy Matsunaga. He is survived by his wife, Amy (Saiki); his children, Bailey (Anne Marie), Thomas (Sheila), Sherry (Andrew) Bumatai, Joan (Charles) Brotman, Ann (Ross) Sueoka, and Richard (Leslie); 14 grandchildren; and 9 great-grandchildren.