Las Vegas Sun

August 24, 2019

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Fortune links Nevada governor and newly married first lady

Kathy Sisolak

Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal / AP

In this April 18, 2019, photo, Nevada first lady Kathy Sisolak poses for a photograph at the Governor’s Manson in Carson City.

RENO — Three days after Gov. Steve Sisolak was elected governor of Nevada, he went to a fortune cookie factory in San Francisco's Chinatown.

"You can leave your bag," the taxi driver said when Sisolak told him to wait.

Sisolak refused. Inside was the engagement ring he bought months earlier, during a tight race against Republican Adam Laxalt, the Nevada attorney general.

The Democratic governor-elect of Nevada planned to surprise his girlfriend, Kathy Ong. The two started dating in 2013 after becoming friends at the gym near both their homes.

Ong started Hobbs, Ong & Associates, a financial consulting firm that specializes in municipal finance. She has overseen more than $32 billion in tax-exempt bonds used by state and local governments to finance capital projects.

She was in San Francisco for work and the two planned a weekend away after a tough campaign to replace outgoing GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Sisolak had written, "Will you marry me?" on a small slip of paper that went inside a fortune cookie he offered from a Chinese takeout box when Ong met him at the hotel room.

She said she didn't want a cookie.

He offered again.

"I really don't want a cookie right now," she said.

"Just have the cookie," he insisted.

"Fine," she thought, breaking open the cookie and reading what it said.

"Yes, of course," she told him. He pulled out the hidden ring.

They both cried.

The fortune cookie proposal is a glimpse into the personal life of the state's 30th governor, now more than halfway through his first legislative session, and the woman who became first lady of Nevada.

"To be here, no one imagines that," Kathy Sisolak said about her place in history and in the governor's mansion in Carson City.

"I'm not from a political family. I've never been married, and now to be here," she told the Reno Gazette Journal . "I still sometimes can't believe it."

Steve Sisolak has called Kathy his soulmate. They are both in their 60s and she said it's a perfect fit.

But she was surprised when he proposed.

"I knew we would get married at some point, but it is something we didn't think about during the campaign, and then after we had so much going on," she said.

She said that, for her, he was easy to love. She admires his sense of humor and that he anonymously buys meals for people and always shakes hands with everyone.

"He is a wonderful family man," she said. "He just seems like he adores me, no matter what I do."

"I could yell at him or scream and nothing," she said laughing. "I tell him, good thing you had daughters. You are well trained."

Sisolak has two daughters, Ashley and Carley, from his first marriage. Both are in their late 20s and were visible in campaign commercials talking about being raised by a single dad.

Kathy Ong was born in Ely, the youngest of four children to Chinese immigrant parents. When she was a baby, her parents and three older brothers moved to Las Vegas.

Her father was a card dealer on Fremont street, often coming home from days of work where he faced racism.

Her mother worked for Clark County as a data processor.

They stressed the importance of education, and math came easily to the now-first lady. When she graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, she worked in the Clark County budget office. Eventually, she oversaw Clark County's $1.8 billion budget.

She and Guy Hobbs founded Hobbs, Ong & Associates in 1996.

Kathy Sisolak said it has been hard to get used to the public attention, something she and Steve Sisolak were almost immune to in Las Vegas even though he was a longtime Clark County commissioner.

"You are really never alone," she said. "I've never experienced that. I've never had children either. I'm used to being by myself."

But she is embracing the public attention and attends as many as four events a week.

"This is a privilege to do this," she said. "I hope to bring honor to this role."

Over the next few months, Kathy Sisolak plans to focus as first lady on issues including mammograms, breast cancer awareness and financial literacy.

Both her cousin and mother had breast cancer, she said, and she called it important for young people to understand budgeting.

Steve Sisolak said he's proud of what his wife has accomplished and the role model she is becoming.

"Kathy has embraced her role, becoming a visible presence at community events, and Nevadans across the state instantly recognize her kind heart, generous spirit and warm personality," he said in a statement. "I'm excited to see her continue to serve the people of this state with grace and brilliance as she advocates for causes she is passionate about."

Staff at the governor's mansion said the couple is down-to-earth. They slept in a small apartment in the back while the floors were redone during the first few weeks after moving to Carson City, and it's not uncommon for the governor to go to the store on his own.

The mansion's executive coordinator, Kristen Dillard, texted Kathy Sisolak in February that Dillard's husband was sick and had to have emergency surgery.

"I texted her this is going on, I'm not sure what my week is going to look like, but we have a couple of events and everything is covered," Dillard said.

Kathy Sisolak texted back, "You stay home, and I'll come up and do your events."