Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson dies at 75

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SANTA FE, N.M. — State and world leaders are mourning the loss of former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

The Richardson Center for Global Engagement announced Saturday morning that the former governor passed away in his sleep Friday night at his summer home in Massachusetts.

For many in New Mexico, former Gov. Bill Richardson was a household name, serving as the thirtieth governor from 2003 to 2011, and a congressman for more than a decade before that. 

Those who knew him say his impact knew no borders. The former governor was the energy secretary under President Bill Clinton and a United Nations ambassador. 

Tributes poured in for the longtime familiar face of Democratic politics after he passed away in his sleep at 75. 

“All of us who knew Governor Richardson saw him as a force of nature, a very formidable, larger than life political personality who made a difference in everything he pursued. Mostly for the better and sometimes for the worse but he will be deeply remembered for his impact on the land of enchantment as well as on the world stage,” said Joe Monahan, on the New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan website. 

In a statement Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called him a visionary who, “saw the potential of our great state before so many others did…his reputation preceded him around the globe: Bill Richardson is someone who gets things done.”

The successor to the House seat he first held, Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez said, “Governor Richardson will be remembered for so many accomplishments, including creating the Indian Affairs Department…blessings to all who will mourn him.”

“He loved people. In fact, he held the world handshaking record set over an 8-hour period set at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds,” said Monahan. 

During his tenure as governor, Bill Richardson was appointed as the chairman for the Democratic Governors’ Association in 2004. Two years later he won his second term. 

“He backtracked a little bit on the death penalty and decided to repeal it, a pretty courageous political decision, he raised teachers’ salaries during his tenure, he had a formidable record on pre-K education, he repealed the food tax, the Spaceport, and the Rail Runner that we know about today all came about under Gov. Bill Richardson’s term,” said Monahan.  

In 2008, he ran a brief presidential campaign before dropping out and endorsing former President Barack Obama. 

Once Obama was elected, Richardson was vetted for commerce secretary. He withdrew shortly after amid a federal grand jury investigation regarding pay-to-play allegations. 

“He was never found guilty of anything, but it had political consequences that investigation which was he would not be able to serve in President Obama’s cabinet, who was about to offer him a position. So that derailed Richardson politically, but he soon recovered and was back on the world stage doing these hostage negotiations,” Monahan said.  

His work as a hostage negotiator earned him a second Nobel Peace Prize nomination in August.

“He was one man who was able to communicate with people at all levels, it was a real gift he had and he put it to work for the service of humanity, and that will be a big legacy for governor Richardson,” said Monahan. 

Mickey Bergman, vice president of the Richardson Center, shared the following statement:

“Governor Richardson passed away peacefully in his sleep last night. He lived his entire life in the service of others – including both his time in government and his subsequent career helping to free people held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad. There was no person that Governor Richardson would not speak with if it held the promise of returning a person to freedom. The world has lost a champion for those held unjustly abroad and I have lost a mentor and a dear friend.

Right now our focus is on supporting his family, including his wife Barbara of over 50 years, who was with him when he passed. We will share further information as it becomes available.”

Click here for more statements from our congressional delegation, and other leaders.