Bill Richardson, a former Democratic governor of New Mexico who was the United States ambassador to the United Nations, has died. He was 75 years old.
Richardson died in his sleep at his summer home in Chatham, Mass., the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, a nonprofit foundation created by the former governor, confirmed Saturday.
Before being elected governor in 2002, and later running unsuccessfully as the first Latino candidate for the presidency of the United States, Richardson served 14 years as a congressman representing northern New Mexico. Under President Bill Clinton, he served as UN Ambassador and Secretary of Energy.
After his career in government, he cemented his legacy as an unofficial diplomat through his volunteer work to secure the release of Americans detained abroad.
“He lived his entire life in service to others,” Mickey Bergman, vice president of the Richardson Center, said in a statement. “The world has lost a champion for those wrongfully detained abroad and I have lost a mentor and dear friend.”
Richardson sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, but dropped out of the race after placing fourth in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. Then he supported Obama, who as president-elect called Richardson as its Secretary of Commerce. Richardson withdrew as a candidate for office amid a federal investigation into a alleged pay-to-play scheme involving campaign contributions in exchange for a state contract. The investigation ended without charges against Richardson and his former aides.
As a public servant, he also made his mark as a professional giver. During his 2002 gubernatorial run, Richardson set a Guinness World Record: one that still stands — to give 13,392 hands in eight hours during the campaign.
He negotiated with notoriously autocratic governments
Richardson visited North Korea on several occasions to negotiate the release of Americans held there. In 1996, he successfully negotiated the release of Evan Hunziker, an American civilian arrested after crossing into North Korean waters.
That same year, his talks with the Cuban leader Fidel Castro had led to the release of three political prisoners.
The prolific diplomat’s willingness to negotiate with some of the world’s most notorious autocratic governments also drew some criticism. After Richardson’s visit to Myanmar in 2021, some human rights leaders criticized him to give its military legitimacy.
Days later, the former governor successfully negotiated with the American journalist The release of Danny Fenster after holding meetings with General Min Aung Hlaing, the Burmese army general who took power after toppling the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Last week, Richardson was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his global efforts to free political prisoners, one of multiple Nobel Prize nominations. Democratic senators who nominated him pointed to Richardson’s recent role in pro basketball star pitching Brittney Griner i Navy veteran Trevor Reedboth were repatriated in prisoner exchanges with Russia.
Before Griner’s release was guaranteed, Richardson expressed optimism about the outcome an interview with NPR last year. “Prisoner exchanges are indecent, but sometimes they have to be done to bring American hostages home,” he said.
President Biden mourned Richardson, a former colleague, calling him a “patriot and true original.”
“He seized every opportunity to serve and faced every new challenge with joy, determined to do the greatest good for his country, his beloved New Mexico, and Americans around the world,” Biden said in a announced on Saturday. “Few have served our nation in so many capacities or with such relentlessness, creativity and good humor.”
Richardson’s wife of 50 years, Barbara Richardson, was with him at the time of his death, Bergman said. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter Heather.