Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a longtime fixture of Democratic politics with turns as Energy Secretary and United Nations ambassador under the Clinton administration, died on Friday, the Richardson Center for Global Engagement said in a statement. He was 75.
Richardson died in his sleep at his summer home in Massachusetts.
“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,” Mickey Bergman, vice president of the Richardson Center, said in a statement.
“The world has lost a champion for those held unjustly abroad and I have lost a mentor and a dear friend.”
Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed Richardson, in a joint statement, as “a devoted public servant and skilled diplomat.”
“Whether in an official or unofficial capacity, he was a masterful and persistent negotiator who helped make our world more secure and won the release of many individuals held unjustly abroad,” the pair said.
President Joe Biden similarly praised Richardson as “a patriot and true original.”
“Over the years, I saw firsthand his passion for politics, love for America, and unflagging belief that, with respect and good faith, people can come together across any difference, no matter how vast,” Biden said in a statement.
Richardson began his political career in earnest as an aide to then-Massachusetts Rep. Frank Bradford Morse before becoming a staff member for the US State Department and Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 1970s.
He was first elected to the US House in 1983, representing New Mexico’s Third District. Richardson later served as US ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy before being elected governor of New Mexico in 2002. He served two terms before leaving office in 2011.
After an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2008, Richardson launched the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, a non profit promoting international peace, in 2011.
Richardson and his namesake center had privately worked on behalf of families of hostages and detainees abroad. He traveled to Moscow last year and held meetings with Russian leadership to discuss the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that Richardson “dedicated his life to public service.”
“Whether inside or outside of government, he was driven by a fierce belief in the power of diplomacy,” the top US diplomat said in a statement. “He demonstrated the value of engagement and charted an inspiring path for future generations of public servants to follow.”
US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens also expressed his condolences Saturday in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“My heartfelt condolences to Governor Bill Richardson’s family and to Mickey Bergman and the team at the Richardson Center for Global Engagement,” Carstens said, posting a photo of the two alongside his statement.
Carstens and Richardson worked together on hostage relief efforts, including those related to the detainments of Griner and Whelan.
“On behalf of the countless families that Governor Richardson and his Center have helped, I wanted to express our profound feeling of loss at his passing,” Neda Sharghi, chair of the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, said in a statement Saturday. “Governor Richardson has been a fierce advocate for human rights and the effort to bring home people unjustly held overseas.”
Matthew Heath, an American who was wrongfully detained in Venezuela, noted that “even though I had never met [Richardson], he tirelessly, selflessly, and relentlessly worked for my liberation.”
“He appealed for my freedom and the freedom of other Americans. His center provided hundreds and hundreds of hours of support to my family while I was in detention,” Heath told CNN Saturday. “Knowing that a force of nature like Gov. Richardson was advocating with the highest levels of both governments was a beacon of hope for me while I was in captivity. Gov. Richardson passing is like a light going out of this world.”
Richardson was born in 1947 in Pasadena, California. He grew up in Mexico City, Mexico, leaving to attend boarding school in Massachusetts in 1960.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and French from Tufts University in 1970 and a master’s degree from Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1971.
He married Barbara Richardson in 1972 and had one daughter.
This story has been updated with additional information.