Don Fong was born on May 13, 1953 in Stockton, California and returned to the Lord on December 30, 2020 at home in Los Gatos, California after a four-year and three-month battle with stage IV lung cancer. He remains in our hearts as a loving husband, wonderful father, beloved friend, and devoted brother-in-Christ. He is survived by his wife, Sharon, his two sons, Brandon and Brenton, his daughter, Brianne, and his grandson, Cameron.
Don was the oldest of four children, born to Soo K. Fong and Helen Hong. His younger siblings include Carl Fong, Arlene Chung, and Randy Fong. Since Cantonese was Don's first language, his grandfather, James Gee, made Don's pre-elementary education his responsibility and diligently taught Don how to read and write, add and subtract, multiply and divide...all before starting kindergarten at El Dorado Elementary. Although Don's father was a chiropractor by profession, he also worked at an uncle's Chinese restaurant in Concord named "The Rickshaw', Concord's first Chinese dining establishment in 1954. After two years of commuting every weekend between Stockton and Concord, the family moved to Concord in March 1961.
Don's first friend in Concord was the son of the Lutheran minister who lived across the street from the family home, in the parsonage next door to the church. John and Don were best friends for years, learning how to ride bikes and skateboards, climbing trees, watching Roy Rogers and Gene Autry cowboy shows, as well as Sky King and The Mickey Mouse Club. Don was involved in the Lutheran church for Sunday School, and, at age 12, memorized the names of all the books of the Bible.
From 1961 to 1966, Don attended Concord Elementary where he was the captain of the traffic patrol an also student body president. He was introduced to the wonderful world of music in third grade when he played the song flute, followed by playing the tuba in the school band in fourth grade. At Loma Vista Intermediate School, Don learned to play the baritone horn and the string bass.
At Mr. Diablo High School, Don taught himself to play trombone and joined the jazz band. He went on to play the baritone and trombone in the marching band and, in his senior year, served as drum major. Don was also involved in high school sports - running cross country, basketball, track, and tennis - lettering in the latter two. Out of a class of 522 students, Don rounded out his high school years as the class valedictorian, giving a graduation speech titled, "World Brotherhood."
In 1967, Don's grandfather moved in with the family in Concord and spent most evenings cooking and watching over Don and his siblings since Don's parents worked at the restaurant at night. Throughout high school, Don helped out in the family restaurant as a dishwasher, shrimp and onion peeler, waiter, and seating host. He received his big break when he was offered a position at the U.S. Post Office in Concord during his senior year in high school. One of Don's friends was the grandson of the Concord Postmaster, and helped Don get the job. This change in jobs increased his hourly pay from $1.25/hour (at the restaurant) to $3.24/hour (at the post office).
In 1971, after receiving a Regents Scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley, Don began his first year at UC Berkeley's School of Engineering with a focus in Computer Science. For collegiate fun, Don played sousaphone in the Cal Marching Band (Go Bears!) and the Cal Concert Band. Throughout this time, Don continued working at the Concord Post Office Tuesday through Saturday mornings from 4am to 7am to help pay his way through school. Don lived at home in Concord, commuting to school each day after his morning shift at work, and didn't make it home until 9pm. It was during this time that Don faced the possibility of being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. His draft number was 49 - the U.S. Government was taking young men whose draft numbers were 1 through 37. Although he completed the Army pre-induction physical in Oakland and was waiting on the needs for soldiers headed for Vietnam, Don ended up not being selected for active military service.
After a few years at UC Berkeley, Don decided to transfer to the University of the Pacific (UOP) in Fall of 1973 to take advantage of UOP's coop work experience program, which was a requirement for the Engineering School. He was assigned for thirteen months to the Naval Weapons Station in Concord. After graduating in June of 1976 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, the Naval Weapons Station hired him as an electronics engineer to test guidance and seeker-head sections of air-to-air missiles that were mounted on Navy F-14 Tomcat jet fighter aircrafts.
The next 17 years took Don into the world of defense electronics as a software engineer. He moved to San Jose and worked for TRW for five and a half years, Litton Applied Technology for ten years, and Loral for a year and a half. In these companies, Don developed software for communication satellite ground station monitoring, radar warning receivers, radar pulse simulators, and Army battlefield simulation systems (GPS based) which are still being used today.
In 1993, Don left the Aerospace industry and moved into the commercial software space. He worked at Informix Software for three years, BEA Systems for three years, NetSanity for one year, Legato Systems for two years, PeopleSoft for two years, Nokia for four years, and Marketo for one and a half years. At these companies, Don worked on software support account management, software QA, and managed developer support.
With so much work experience under his belt, Don decided to build his own independent consulting business after leaving Marketo. As an independent Marketo consultant, Don built an impressive client list over the last eight years (since 2012), contracting with Trulia, Tesla, RiseSmart, Cisco, NVIDIA, Glassdoor, BlueJeans, Blue Shield of California, Okta, Dropbox, Asana, and Silicon Valley Bank, among many others. In April 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic cut Don's last contract short, ushering in an early retirement.
A legacy that Don leaves behind is the ethic to strive to do what one loves and be good at it. Don and Sharon's example to love their work was passed down to their three (now) adult children who all have careers in industries they love.
Starting in 1976, Don nurtured a passion for portrait and wedding photography. Over the course of his professional photography career, he photographed over 300 weddings and several portraits for families, friends, and colleagues. He shared his love for and knowledge in photography with many friends and family, and also used his skills to take pictures for many church events: Youth Camp, Family Camp, Baptisms, Celebration Lunches in the Fellowship Hall, Church Anniversaries, and the all-church directory to name a few. It always brought him so much joy to see many of the family portraits he shot later become Christmas cards and hanging portraits in the homes of his family and friends.
In July 1970, Don met his wife Sharon (at the time, Sharon Lew) through his UOP roommate Ron Chew, who was dating his now wife, Elaine, Sharon's closest friend at University of California, Davis. After their first date (bowling), Don and Sharon dated for two years long distance. Sharon lived in San Francisco, while Don still lived in San Jose. Unfazed by the distance, they made up for it with frequent visits and long talks on the phone, which tripled Don's phone bill. After setting up a surprise scavenger hunt, Don proposed to Sharon in 1980, and the two were married on October 11, 1981 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, California. Don and Sharon welcomed their first child, Brandon David, in 1983, their second child, Brianne Elizabeth, in 1986, and their third child, Brenton Nicholas, in 1987.
As a couple, Don and Sharon had a difficult time finding a church in the San Jose area with Chinese-American congregation, with worship service conducted in English. After a few years, their faith journey was renewed when they met (now close friends) Tommy and Bonnie Lim. Tommy met Sharon at Nordstrom, where she was working at the time, and asked her if she and Don were interested in joining a core group of people interested in starting an Asian-American church for American born Chinese families in the San Jose area. Although they had never helped start a church before, Don and Sharon jumped on board with Tommy, Bonnie, and several others (Sheryl and Wes Chan, Mike and Donna Wong, Maureen and Tom Wong, Gina and Arnold Chew, Irene and Joey Lee, and many more) all of whom remain close friends even today. Together this core group started the South Bay Asian American Presbyterian New Church Development (SBAAPNCD). As the congregation grew, Don learned how to lead Children's Sunday School, put together and create church bulletins, and plan a church retreat. It was here that Don discovered the richness of church community, fellowship, and bible study.
After being together for ten years, the South Bay church decided to close its doors and the remaining five families were on the search again for another Asian-American church family. In August 1998, Brianne was invited by Allison Chan (Sheryl and Wes Chan's daughter) to Youth Camp, a ministry hosted by First Chinese Baptist Church (FCBC). Thrilled by her camp experience, Brianne begged her parents to drive her from Los Gatos to FCBC in San Francisco on Sundays for church. Don initially responded with, "Are you kidding?! That's a 50 mile one-way trip. Maybe we can do once a month." These monthly drop-offs turned into biweekly trips, and eventually became weekly commutes. While the kids attended the 9 am Youth Service (overseen by Pastor Richard Chung at the time, then eventually by Pastor Chris Otani), Don and Sharon attended the Adult English Service at 10 am with Wes and Sheryl Chan (overseen by Pastor Don Ng at the time, then eventually by Pastor Sebastian Ong).
The church event that solidified FCBC as the new church home for the Fong family was the annual Yosemite church trip in April 1999. There, Don shared that he deeply felt the warmth of church members extending themselves to him, Sharon, and the kids. Don always recalled fond memories from that trip - sharing cooking chores with Joe Chan, hiking up to Yosemite Falls with Paul Chew, and having meaningful conversations with Roger Tom, Charcoal Choy, and Don Ng. The following year, Brandon, Brianne, and Brent became involved in Chinese Christian Union (CCU) Basketball, so Don and Sharon were driving up to San Francisco at least four times a week to get each kid to their respective basketball games, worship service, and fellowship events. In September 1999, Don and Sharon attended their first Family Camp at Happy Valley Retreat Center in Santa Cruz. And on January 2, 2000, along with Wes & Sheryl Chan and family, our family was baptized together by Pastor Don.
On October 11, 2003, Don rededicated his lift to Christ at the Promise Keepers event at the San Jose Arena with other friends in the men's fellowship. After this re-commitment, Don said that he had a feeling of inner peace, knowing that his burdens would be made lighter with God's help, carrying both him and life's struggles out of His deep love for us.
In September 2016, Don was diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. After several rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy, Don's oncologist recommended him to hospice care in January 2020. Off treatment, Don was finally able to regain his sense of taste and appetite, his hair grew back (all black!) and he started to gain some weight. Don began hospice care with Mission Hospice of San Mateo in March 2020, almost at the exact same time that California went into lockdown/shelter-in-place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many "last year" plans were no longer possible (a Disney cruise and one last trip to Disneyland with the family), so Don exchanged those times with weekly full conversations with friends over Zoom. Named after and inspired by the book "Tuesdays with Morrie," virtual meetups with friends and family over Zoom were scheduled through a collaborative spreadsheet. Over the course of the year, Don enjoyed over 200 Zoom calls with loved ones, giving him a sense of connection and comfort at a time when everyone had to stay apart.
In the very early morning on December 30, 2020, Don journeyed back home to be with the Lord, passing without pain and in his sleep.
Don had said on multiple occasions that "growing together [as a community] has been and continues to be the most fulfilling journey for me." He will be missed, but we are comforted by knowing that his journey here on Earth was full of love, and that he continues on in his journey, full of love and peace, now in Heaven.