Funeral services are pending for March Fong Eu, the first woman to serve as California secretary of state and the first Chinese-American elected to statewide office.

Eu died Thursday night in Irvine at age 95 due to complications from a fall and subsequent surgery, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

“Anne and I were saddened to learn of March Fong Eu’s passing,” Gov. Jerry Brown said. “She was a pioneering woman who helped open doors to public service for more women and Asian Americans. On behalf of all Californians, Anne and I express our deepest condolences to March’s family.”

Eu, who grew up while living with her family in the back of a Chinese laundry in San Francisco, was elected secretary of state five times, holding the office from 1974 to 1994, when she was appointed U.S. ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia by President Bill Clinton. Before becoming secretary of state, she served in the state Assembly from 1966 through 1974.

She also gained national notoriety for her successful campaign in the 1970s to ban pay toilets from public buildings, which she said symbolized the second-class treatment of women who would be left fumbling for pocket change in their purses just to use a bathroom while there was no such requirement for men’s facilities.

A graduate of UC Berkeley, she earned a master’s degree from Mills College and a doctorate in education from Stanford University. She worked as a dental hygienist and served as president of the American Dental Hygienists Association. She was also a teacher in Oakland public schools.

“She was a true trailblazer, from being the first Asian-American woman elected to the state Legislature to serving nearly 20 years as California’s first female secretary of state,” current Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “She was a champion for transparency and increasing voter access to registration and the ballot box. I am proud to build upon her legacy.”

She is survived by her daughter Suyin Stein, four grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. Her son, Matthew Fong, who died of cancer in 2011, served as state treasurer from 1994 to 1998.

—City News Service

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