If you were a member of the Caltech band or attended any of their performances in the late 1960s or early ’70s, you might recognize this alumnus. A clarinetist since the age of eight, he grew up playing in school bands, including the one at his undergraduate alma mater, UC Berkeley. He continued this extracurricular activity at Caltech, even serving as student manager of the band for two of his five years at the Institute. While his primary focus was the study of mathematics, he enjoyed performing with the Caltech band.

Although he graduated into a recession, his advisor secured him a temporary job in numerical mathematics and computing at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The work turned into a permanent position studying the hardware capabilities of one of the world’s first supercomputers prior to its arrival at Los Alamos. 

But before the machinery was delivered, he changed course and moved to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

He spent his career at LLNL, taking on a variety of roles outside his initial field of study. Over the years, he helped manage the organization’s mathematical software libraries, supported the development of mathematical software, wrote control systems software, and ran simulations to support the construction of an X-ray free-electron laser.

“One of the things Caltech encourages students to do is to talk to people in other fields, to collaborate, and to make progress that way,” he says. 

Since his retirement in 2010, this alum has focused on growing and showing daffodils across the country—a hobby he took up in the 1980s—and honing his photography skills. In fact, he regularly contributes to the American Daffodil Society’s online database of flower photographs. 

His Caltech experience also encouraged him to give back, and Kirby Fong (MS ’68, PhD ’73) is a longtime supporter of the Institute. As soon as he earned his PhD, he bought his lifetime membership in the Caltech Alumni Association to make sure his connection to the Institute would stay strong. He is a member of the Caltech Fund’s 1891 Society, and he recently joined the Torchbearers Legacy Society when he decided to bequeath a portion of his estate to the Friends of Instrumental Music.

Fong is still an avid clarinet player, and the relationships he established with people such as Glenn Price (now director of performing and visual arts at Caltech) and Bill Bing (former director of Caltech bands) hold a special place in his heart.

“You want to give back to the people who help you,” Fong says. “I enjoyed playing in the band, and I want other people to have that same opportunity. I want to contribute to keep that going.”

So, as a frequent contributor to the Friends of Instrumental Music, Fong says it just made sense to include them in his estate planning. 

“If I feel that they deserve support while I’m alive, won't they still deserve it after I pass away?" Fong says.