As California’s State Treasurer, Excellence is “All in the Family”
As California’s State Treasurer, Excellence is “All in the Family” | Foto:

As California’s State Treasurer, Excellence is “All in the Family”

Por: Diego Cerón

12, September, 2022 en Business Concept

People always ask me how I got into politics. I tell them that “I kind of fell into it.”

I have done and seen a lot in my lifetime by saying “yes” to invitations to learn new things and meet new people. When the doors of opportunity open, I like to check them out. As I think back, my sense of curiosity and experiences in my childhood have shaped my path to public service.

My childhood stories have never been documented in full so I dedicate this writing to my parents and to the pivotal moments in my upbringing that led me to being elected as the 34th California State Treasurer, the fifth highest position in California government, and the first woman of color and first woman Certified Public Accountant elected to this role since 1849.

My father, William, was one of nine kids born in the City of Kunming, Yunnan Province, in China. My grandfather was one of three brothers who were all Generals in the Kuomintang (KMT and also known as Chinese Nationalist Party) Army. Hence, my family earned the famed social title of “Three Generals in One Family.”

My grandfather later became the first Mayor of Kunming. The house he built as his home in Kunming has been named by the United Nations as a Historical Building. Presently, it is open to visitors and has been a popular local tourist destination.

As California’s State Treasurer, Excellence is “All in the Family”
As California’s State Treasurer, Excellence is “All in the Family”

As a child, my father remembers having servants, cars, tutors, and horses. Since the elders were busy with their professional careers, the youngsters would try to ride horses, take the cars out for a spin (although he could barely see over the dashboard). When the car needed to be slowed down or stopped, he had to slide down to reach the brake pedal and lost complete sight of the road. When his mischief was reported to his father, he got punished severely as if a disobedient soldier in an army.

Then in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party took over and young William was put on a chartered plane to Hong Kong with his father, his grandfather, his aunt, his sisters, and his niece and nephews who were twin babies.

After the little money they brought with them in their haste to escape dried up, young William realized that the privileged life he was born into had disappeared. He was 13 years old and did not speak the dialect (Cantonese) in Hong Kong. He realized that education was the key to success. He attended an English school and did well in all his academic subjects and was a school sports captain and president of his graduating class.

He applied and was accepted to the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, and earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1958.

After working for the Ontario Power Hydro Commission in Toronto for one year, he continued his educational path, and went to London and England to earn his Master’s Degree in Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning at the National College. On account of his thesis at the college, he was invited to continue his research at Glasgow University, Scotland on a faculty fellowship. He earned his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 1965.

My mother, Sophia, was born in Swatow, in the Canton Province. She was the only child of Reverend William and Mary Doo. The Doo family never had much money and often moved from place to place. Growing up, Sophia did not have many close friends and was often sick, especially in the winter months.

As California’s State Treasurer, Excellence is “All in the Family”
As California’s State Treasurer, Excellence is “All in the Family”

The family eventually found their way to Hong Kong, then Boston, Toronto, and New York City where Rev. Doo was a senior pastor at various Chinese Presbyterian churches.

Sophia played piano and organ, led the youth group, taught youths in Sunday school, and sang in the choir. Her childhood was all about serving the church community.

On a fateful day, my parents met in Toronto at a church picnic. They had instant chemistry from the moment they met, however, there was an age gap. My father just graduated from the University of Saskatchewan and my mother was still in high school so they became pen pals for close to five years. After my mother finished her degree in Fine Arts Education from City University of New York in 1963, she stepped up and said to my father, “Bill, we have known each other for 5 years, what is your intention? It’s now or never.” My father smiled and replied, “I have been waiting all this time for you to mature and to make up your mind. Now you are ready. My answer is a joyful ‘now.’”

They got married at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in midtown New York City. The newlyweds then moved to Glasgow, Scotland, and that was where I was conceived.

My mother loved the name “Fiona” which is how I got my birth name. After my father’s graduation from the University of Glasgow in 1965, they moved back to New York City and stayed with my mother’s parents in their small Chinatown apartment. I was born at the New York Infirmary in 1966.

My father got a job with General Foods and my mother got a teaching job at Port Washington High School when I was about one year old. During the week, I stayed with my grandparents in New York City and my parents would come and pick me up on the weekends. This continued for about four years until my parents saved enough money for a down payment (with a little help from my grandparents) to buy our first house in Great Neck, Long Island due in large part to the excellent public school system.

After working for a few companies, my father founded and co-founded a number of different companies. He realized that he did not have the experience to run a successful business so when I was six years old, he went back to Columbia University and earned his M.B.A.

Growing up, I had a “Tiger Dad” who was the main breadwinner and the “guardian” of our household.

From birth, he treated me like the eldest son, and we did everything together on the weekends. We would get up early and run errands, mowed the lawn, changed the storm windows, shoveled the snow, and changed the tires on the cars. We watched sports, the Olympics, and the “Big Four” World Tennis events. I recall that one of the TV shows we watched weekly (with a relatable name) was “All in the Family.”

After my birth, my younger brother, Michael, followed. We are two and half years apart. He is an engineer and married to Jennifer, a Registered Nurse. They have two girls, the older one is attending San Francisco State University. Their younger daughter is still in high school.

My younger sister, Samantha, came 16 years after me. At her conception, my mother told my father, “This is going to be our before it’s too late child.” My mother had just turned 40.

My sister is a chiropractor and married to a fellow chiropractor. They welcomed their first girl who just celebrated her first birthday recently.

My father always encouraged my siblings and me to try everything. He would say: “By all means shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you will still be amongst the stars.” Another one of his sayings was: “What is worth doing is worth doing it well.” Whatever we tried, my father made us feel like we were the best at it and always gave us an A+ for effort.

I tried a lot of things growing up: Little League, synchronized swimming, singing a solo at a school performance, and being a cheerleader. I had private teachers for piano and flute. After getting headaches from blowing the flute, I took up the drums and formed a four-piece band called “The Banana Splits.” My father was our weekend driver and would shuttle us to churches, picnics, and other social events to perform.

As California’s State Treasurer, Excellence is “All in the Family”
As California’s State Treasurer, Excellence is “All in the Family”

I signed up for Brownies in elementary school and loved earning badges on my sash for good deeds and completing community service type of projects. I was also a top Girl Scouts cookies seller every year. I equate selling cookies to campaigning for elected office. Every year, I would knock on my neighbor’s door, take their order, deliver the cookies, and collect the money. I would see them and wave to them all year long. The following year, I would knock on their doors again. This is what we do to get elected and stay elected.

In sixth grade, we had a Snake River Valley project in school where we all had to apply for jobs. I wanted to be the banker so my mother wrote a letter of recommendation to my teacher. In the letter she pointed out that I was good at math and games, and most of all, I was trustworthy. So I guess it should not be a surprise that my parents are really proud that today I am THE State Treasurer (aka Banker) of the fifth-largest economy in the world. A dream finally come true to my parents.

At ten years old, I would go to our community swim complex and ask the young parents at the kiddie pool if they needed a Mother’s Helper. I continued to babysit until I was able to get my first job at 16 years old by walking door-to-door along the main business corridor asking if anyone needed help for the summer. I was hired at Yogurt Fantasy and got promoted to a manager after one year.

The summer after, I worked three jobs because I wanted to buy a car for college. My parents matched my savings and I bought my first car, a Mitsubishi HatchBack.

I took after my father and also excelled in sports, playing four sports in junior and senior high school. I liked team sports the best and was the captain of all four of my teams in my senior year. I won the coveted “Donald S. Benjamin Award” upon my high school graduation for combined excellence in three areas: Scholarship, Leadership, and Sportsmanship.

I was baptized as a baby and my family never missed church on Sundays. After the service, we went to McDonald’s for lunch and played double tennis. After I got my driver’s license at 16, getting up early and going to church, and tennis was sometimes a struggle but I got a good night’s sleep at the end of the day.

My father wanted us to be one of the LEAD professions when we grew up: Lawyer, Engineer, Accountant, or Doctor. Since I was good at math, he guided me toward accounting.

I balanced my parents’ check books, helped pay the bills, and gathered documents during tax time. Subsequently, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from Rochester Institute of Technology, a Master’s Degree in Taxation from Golden Gate University and an M.B.A. from Pepperdine University. I have been a licensed CPA in California since 1992.

My father is very organized so everything is in file folders and binders which rubbed off on me as well. He has a method of handling incoming documents and applies his “3-D Principle: Dump it, Delegate it, or Do it”. Since my father came from a military family, I was trained to be on time (better to be early) and to honor my commitments. “Showing up” is one of my key tenets to success.

To this day, I still love to put together teams to compete and win. I have run for four different elected offices, been on the ballot 19 times, and have never lost a race due to my competitive nature and spirit since my childhood.

As California’s State Treasurer, Excellence is “All in the Family”
As California’s State Treasurer, Excellence is “All in the Family”


I have had over 1,000 interns come through my different offices over the past 20 years to understand what the government does for the people. I feel for the young people today who face so much pressure to do well in school and are missing out on other childhood experiences and fond memories. In high school, I only had one honors class: Spanish. I got straight A’s by never missing a class and always sitting in the front row and listening carefully to where my teachers were trying to lead us. My parents also wanted me to be well-rounded which has benefited me well in life.

I have endorsed many candidates running for office in the past 20 years and affectionately call everyone who has worked, volunteered, and interned for me my “Ma Squad.” I root for and fight for the “underdogs” and try to level the playing field whenever I can.

In November, I am up for re-election to my second term as California State Treasurer. I am grateful to have answered my calling in life. I wake up happy and fulfilled every day. I thank the voters for giving me the chance to spread my wings and to represent the people.

I’m also blessed to have found a husband who is also a public servant. He has been a long time Ventura County firefighter and has been an elected Commissioner of the Port of Hueneme/Oxnard Harbor District since 2010.

Over the past few years, he has worked on some of California’s largest fires as a logistics specialist. In our free time, we like to go see movies on the big screen, sing karaoke, and travel around to promote all this great state of California has to offer. We are the proud parents of three adopted rescues: Nika, Henry, and Pepper. We are the perfect Yin-Yang couple.

People ask me “What’s next?” I answer with a question: Is California ready to elect a woman of color as Governor in 2026?

California became a state in 1849 and is still one of the 18 states that has never elected a woman as a Governor. Stay tuned.

Fiona Ma: Proven, Principled, and Problem Solver.

Post script: My mother passed over the rainbow on July 22, 2018. My father and I still live under the same roof and co-own our home. My father reviewed and concurred with the contents in this article. He is smiling.