Kathy & Steve - Nevada's First Lady Speaks from the Heart
Apr 07, 2019 05:48PM
By Kristy McLean
Amidst all of the mixed messaging in political media, it can be easy to forget that politicians are human too. In Nevada politics, one man came out on top as the new Governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak. He was the state’s first unmarried governor-elect in more than a century. That quickly changed as he and long-time girlfriend, Kathy Ong, tied the knot on December 28, 2018.
“Kathy and I join our families in delivering a heartfelt thank you to all those who’ve wished us well as we embark on this new, exciting chapter in our lives,” said Sisolak. “Above all else, I am grateful that I’ll have my soulmate by my side for this journey, and I know Kathy will make Nevada proud as First Lady.”
Bliss Life had the honor of interviewing First Lady Kathy Sisolak to discuss her recent nuptials and to get her perspective on marriage and family. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the First Lady and appreciate her heartfelt responses and we know you will too.
Bliss: How did you and the Governor meet? Was it love at first sight or did your relationship develop over time?
First Lady: Steve and I lived in the same housing complex where there is a fitness center/gym for the residents. I would occasionally see Steve who was, at the time, on the University Board of Regents. It was not love at first sight, but over the next 8 years we slowly progressed to saying hello to each other and making small talk on the treadmill along with the other gym rats. When he became Clark County Commissioner, we started working professionally together on bond related matters, as I was the financial advisor for Clark County at the time. He and I were dating other people this entire time. Then in 2013, we found ourselves both single and we went on a date. It was pretty immediate that on our first date, we had a strong connection, and we made plans for a second date. Unfortunately, I got very sick and realized I had to cancel. I looked and felt terrible! He offered to bring me soup partly because he is a sweetheart, and partly because he suspected that I might be feigning sickness to get out of the second date. However, intuitively, I knew that was his worry, so I agreed for him to deliver the soup. He brought me soup and was glad that I was really sick and not trying to ditch him. He later told me that had I not let him deliver the soup, he would have likely not asked me out again. Love at first sight - no. Love at first terrible sight - yes!
Bliss: Is this your first marriage? Do you have any children?
First Lady: I had never been married before and have no children, but I have two amazing step daughters who have been nothing but kind, supportive, and loving towards me. They truly are Steve’s greatest accomplishments.
Bliss: Are you a native Nevadan? Can you tell us more about your family history?
First Lady: My paternal grandfather immigrated to Ely from China, to be a cook at the Northern Hotel. My paternal grandmother and my then 5-year old father came later in 1921. My father fought in the US Army during World War II and, upon his return from France, he started looking for a bride. In 1952, he was introduced to my mom by their respective parents. They married in Hong Kong and that is where my oldest brother was born. My mom and brother soon immigrated to Ely in 1954, where my mother had 2 more sons before me. Soon after I was born, we moved to Las Vegas, where my father was offered a job as a Faro bank dealer at the Fremont Hotel – the first Chinese dealer in Las Vegas.
I have spent my entire life in Nevada, specifically Las Vegas. I went to college at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and right after graduation I worked as a financial analyst for Clark County, Nevada. I left the County in 1996 to form my own company, Hobbs, Ong & Associates, Inc., a municipal advisory consulting firm. All of my immediate family live in Las Vegas. Home absolutely means Nevada to us.
Bliss: Did you ever think you would be a First Lady?
First Lady: I never imagined I would be First Lady. When I first started dating Steve there was discussion that he might run for Governor, but thinking about it and it actually happening was not something I imagined. It is a privilege and honor to be the First Lady of Nevada. I hope to be a positive influence and help Nevadans whenever I am needed.
Bliss: You have had quite a successful career in finance and politics yourself. You must be proud of all you have accomplished - what do you personally value as some of your greatest achievements to date?
First Lady: I think my greatest career achievement is being able to open my own business and still being in business since 1996. I really love my job and hope to continue working as well as fulfilling the duties of First Lady. I was honored to be appointed by Governor Kenny Guinn to the Board of Directors of Employers Insurance Company of Nevada (formally the Nevada State Industrial Insurance System) in January 2000. Subsequently, Employers completed an initial public offering and converted the policyholder members to a Nevada stock corporation and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol EIG. I retired from the Employers Board in 2018. Again, it was an honor to be appointed by Governor Brian Sandoval to be on the Board of the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) on July 1, 2011. I resigned from the PERS Board in 2019 as chair.
Bliss: How did you come to the decision to resign from the PERS Board?
First Lady: The Board is vested with the responsibility for the management of the proper operation of the System, and with the investment and protection of the assets of the System currently valued at approximately $40 billion. The Board members are the trustees of the plan and are fiduciaries who act for the exclusive benefit of the members and beneficiaries. These members and beneficiaries have the right to expect that the trustees act with integrity, objectivity, independence, prudence, and due care.
The members of the Board are all appointed by the Governor and my term was to conclude in June 2019 unless reappointed. Because this Board is an agency of the State, I chose to resign to avoid any potential conflict of interest.
Bliss: Many couples discuss their political views in their downtime - others choose not to. Do you and Governor Sisolak enjoy discussing politics or do you like to keep your relationship and political views separate?
First Lady: We enjoy discussing our political views. We appreciate each other’s point of view, even on matters on which we don’t necessarily agree. We keep a nice balance of talking about politics versus other topics.
Bliss: How is it living in the Governor’s Mansion? Are you feeling at home and all moved in?
First Lady: It is a privilege to live in the Mansion. We moved in the second week of February after some needed repairs were completed. We are still getting used to the size – it is big for just the two of us. We are feeling at home but there is still more to do to complete the move and add the little things that make a house a home. In addition, because the Mansion is open for tours, we need to prepare for that as well. We have an amazing staff that takes care of everything at the Mansion and they deserve all the credit for making sure things run smoothly. In addition, the capitol police make sure we are safe and Buildings and Grounds make sure the structures are in good working order and well maintained. There is also the Nevada Room on the premises that is used frequently for events of up to150 people.
Bliss: Sounds like you had a nice, intimate family wedding. Weddings come in all shapes and sizes and many brides and grooms reading the magazine have dilemmas about how big or small to go with their celebration. How did you decide on the style of your wedding? What did you do to celebrate your wedding?
First Lady: I was engaged the weekend after the election in November and we wanted to be married before Steve was inaugurated on January 7. As a result, there was not a lot of time to plan a wedding. Fortunately, it has never been a desire of mine to have a big wedding, so planning the wedding was not difficult. It included only immediate family and a couple close friends, and it was important that we be married in the church. Immediately following the ceremony we went to a restaurant for our reception of 20 people. It was very intimate and perfect for us.
Bliss: Did you or will you and Governor Sisolak go on a honeymoon?
First Lady: We intend to go on a honeymoon after the legislative session concludes, but we haven’t started planning anything yet. It’s been a very busy few months since the wedding!
Bliss: Would you like to recommend any of your vendors that helped make your day special? Florists, photographer, church, etc.
First Lady: There are many talented florists and photographers in the state of Nevada. My florist was Flora Couture; I think they did a beautiful job on my bouquet. The photographer was Andrea Waller and we were married by Father Bob Stoeckig at Guardian Angel Cathedral Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas.
Bliss: What are your personal hobbies?
First Lady: I like to work out at the gym and I also go to hot Pilates and spin classes. Fitness is a high priority for me as well as trying to be mindful of a healthy diet. Not only has my fitness hobby led to a healthy lifestyle, it led me to my husband, Steve!
Bliss: What are your favorite ways to spend time together as a couple?
First Lady: We like to take walks, go to movies, go shopping, and go out to eat. Every Sunday when we are all together, we either have lunch or dinner with his daughters. We also really enjoy going to Disneyland – it is such a happy place – except for the lines!
Bliss: What are some of your top values as a married couple? And, as a family? In your opinion, what are the key ingredients to a loving, lasting marriage?
First Lady: Being an older newly married couple is very different than when you are young and starting a career and family. Both of our careers are fully matured, so certain financial stresses are not present. As I mentioned before, Steve’s daughters are our top priority and Steve talks to them every day. Before moving to Carson City, every Sunday we had family dinner with his daughters. It is such fun to talk with them and catch up on the week. We continue that tradition when we are in Las Vegas.
Since we’ve only been married for 3 whole months I certainly don’t consider myself an authority on a loving and lasting marriage. However, I can say we have great communication, similar goals, we have fun, and Steve has a great sense of humor.
Bliss: What do you love about being a Nevadan? What inspires you in your service as First Lady of Nevada?
First Lady: I am a native Nevadan by birth. As a daughter of hard working Asian immigrants who moved from China to Ely, then ultimately to Las Vegas, my 3 older brothers and I enjoyed the hot summers with swimming and fishing at Lake Mead, bowling at the Showboat hotel, and cruising Fremont Street when it was the thing to do on a Saturday night. In the winters, we’d ski at Lee Canyon and Lake Tahoe, and my father and brothers would drive to White Pine and Elko Counties to hunt for deer and elk. As a UNLV student, I went to the Running Rebels basketball games then coached by Tarkanian, tipped the maître d’ to get good seats at the showrooms, ate at the wonderful buffets, and cruised the strip! It was all such a magical and special time that only Nevada can offer.
As a young working professional in the late 70’s, my first job was with Clark County where I worked with budgets and learned about local government. Beyond all the casinos and neon lights, there is a lot of heart and soul that makes this great state of Nevada great. I was very fortunately to have been a part it.
In 1996, I opened my own firm. We helped municipal agencies obtain financing to build streets and highways, public buildings, McCarran Airport, University Medical Center, and other vital infrastructure. During my appointed Board position at Employers Insurance, we built a strong company and provided workers compensation benefits to thousands of Nevadans. The Nevada Public Employees Retirement System is well-run and one of the lowest cost public employee retirement programs in the nation.
Nevada is not only my home, my work place, it is also my future. I am honored as Nevada’s First Lady to take part in shaping a Nevada that respects and provides opportunities to keep the American dream alive for all Nevadans.
Bliss: What advice do you have for couples who are planning their wedding?
First Lady: The type of wedding you have is a personal choice. For me, it wasn’t about the flowers, dress, or food – but the commitment between two people who are willing to take the vows seriously.
Bliss: You know your relationship better than anyone, is there anything else you’d like to share about your love story with the Governor, or weddings and marriage in general?
First Lady: One thing my love story with Steve has taught me is that love can find you when you least expect it. After working out at the same gym for years but barely speaking to each other, I never thought the man next to me on the treadmill would one day become my husband. Luckily, Steve and I finally got to know one another and fell in love, and the rest is history.
Special Thanks to Bliss Life PR Partner Argentum Partners for their collaboration on this interview.
Photo Credit: Andrea Waller