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Dr. Fujio “Fudge” Matsuda. Photo Courtesy: Matsuda Family

Admired for his effective leadership, humility and kindness, Dr. Fujio “Fudge” Matsuda, 95, of Honolulu passed away on Sunday, Aug. 23 at Kahala Nui. His wife, Amy Matsuda, and their six children were by his side. 

Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Matsuda was the 9th president of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and the only UH president of Asian descent.  He was a World War II veteran, held a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was director of the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation, a professor, and most importantly a husband, father, friend and mentor. 

“He taught that we must walk with humility in others’ shoes because all are valued equally,” Matsuda’s family said in a statement. “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. This was the groundwork of every decision he made throughout the many challenges and joys of his long life.” 

Those who knew him saw how deeply he treasured his family. UH President David Lassner reminisced about the early 1990s when he was a fan of a particular band, The Pagan Babies. Dr. Matsuda’s son, Bailey Matsuda, was the band’s keyboardist.

“One day they played in a relatively large club in Kakaʻako, and [Dr. Matsuda] came and I remember thinking, ‘That’s pretty cool that this guy is a retired president, retired executive director of Research Corporation of the University of Hawaiʻi, and cared enough about his son and his music to come out to listen and support even though it is not the music you would normally think someone in their 70s would listen to - but that was his support for his family,” Lassner said. 

Lassner also talked about how Matsuda’s wife shared stories with him about College Hill, the UH president’s residency, and how their kids would enjoy fruit from the beautiful mango tree. 

“I would invite him to events at College Hill after I became president… It was always a treat to have him and his wife there.”

Brennon Morioka, dean of the College of Engineering, first met Dr. Matsuda in 2005 at a DOT luncheon. At the time, Matsuda was retired and Morioka was just starting to work for the department. 

Morioka said he looked up to Dr. Matsuda as a mentor and cherished their time together.

“I took advantage of any opportunity I had when he would invite me to lunch, talk on the phone or have an email conversation. I never missed that opportunity because it’s something that can help me grow as a person,” Morioka said. “He was … a soft-spoken person but when he had something to share, it was amazing how people would gravitate to listen because what he said was going to have meaning.”

Dr. Matsuda encouraged personal growth and inspired many people to reach their potential, including Gov. David Ige. Ige was an engineering major at the time Dr. Matsuda served as UH president. 

“As the first Japanese American president of the University of Hawaiʻi, Dr. Matsuda was an inspiration to me. And because he was an engineer, I consulted with him on many issues, especially transportation, during my legislative career and even after I became the governor,” Ige said. “He understood the importance of the university as an institution and how it could support economic diversification in the state. In each of his professional capacities, he aimed to improve the lives of Hawaiʻi’s people. It was an honor to work with him toward this goal.” 

For some people who met Dr. Matsuda on only a handful of occasions, they described him as a public servant, personable, optimistic, studious, thoughtful, committed and easy to speak to.

“He will be truly missed and everything he has done for Hawaiʻi is truly appreciated by many,” Morioka said on behalf of many. Lassner also remarked, “He led a good life. A good life that anyone can be proud of. Personal and professional.”