The first Asian American president of a major U.S. university has died at the age of 95.
Fujio “Fudge” Matsuda, who led the University of Hawaii (UH) from 1974 to 1984, passed away in the morning of Aug. 23 surrounded by his family.
Born in Honolulu, Matsuda grew up in Kakaako and graduated from McKinley High School before signing up to be part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s 232nd Combat Engineer Company in World War II. He was eventually deployed to Germany with the 291st Field Artillery Observation Battalion.
As the battalion’s sole Asian member, Matsuda had to learn to work with everyone regardless of differences.
“Until then, I didn’t have haole friends,” he told the Honolulu Magazine last year. “It was a real learning experience. It turned out to be a great one.”
After the war, he studied at the University of Hawaii and then transferred to Indiana’s Rose Polytechnic Institute, where he graduated from in 1949.
In 1952, Matsuda earned a doctorate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He worked at the institution as a researcher for two years before moving to the University of Illinois for a year.
Matsuda came home to Hawaii in 1955 and taught in UH’s engineering department until 1962 when Gov. John Burns chose him to lead the state Department of Transportation. He fulfilled the role until 1973 when former UH President Harlan Cleveland asked him to return as vice president of business affairs.
The Board of Regents appointed Matsuda the ninth president of UH in July 1974. He became the first and only president of the university of Asian descent, as well as the first Asian American president of a major university in the U.S.
Matsuda was credited for creating the UH law school and its library, the Korean Studies Center, Marine Sciences building, athletic complex and swimming pool, Institute for Astronomy, Gilmore Hall and art building. He served as president until 1984 when he took on the role of executive director of the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii (RCUH) for 10 years.
Matsuda remained active in the community following his university work. In 2004, the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii honored him as a “Living Treasure.”
Matsuda is survived by his 71-year-old wife and six children.
“He taught that we must walk with humility in others’ shoes, because all are valued equally. We all strive universally to fulfill the same needs: being a part of a family, cherished, and with the opportunity to do good in the world,” his family said, according to the University of Hawaii. “This was the groundwork of every decision he made throughout the many challenges and joys of his long life.”
The family plans to hold a public memorial service for Matsuda when COVID-19 risks subside. Additionally, they seek to set up the Fujio and Amy Matsuda Scholarship in his honor.