Former top US diplomat Bill Richardson dies aged 75
The foundation of former US Ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, has announced his passing at the age of 75. During his tenure under President Bill Clinton, he garnered respect for his unwavering dedication to securing the release of detained US citizens worldwide.
Even after leaving politics, he continued this mission, including a trip to Moscow last year to discuss the release of the detained basketball star Britney Griner.
President Joe Biden praised Mr. Richardson as a true American patriot, emphasizing his multifaceted service and unwavering commitment to the nation in various roles. The President highlighted Mr. Richardson’s enduring legacy, particularly his efforts to free Americans held in some of the world’s most perilous regions while expressing that his absence will be deeply felt.
Bill Richardson was born in Pasadena, California, in 1947 to a Spanish-born mother and a Nicaraguan-born father. He spent his formative years in Mexico City before attending a boarding school in Massachusetts. After completing his undergraduate education at Tufts University in 1970, he obtained a master’s degree in 1971.
This marked the beginning of his political career, which encompassed both national and state-level positions. In 1983, he was elected to represent New Mexico’s Third District in the US House of Representatives.
Over the course of the next five decades in the political arena, he honed his expertise in diplomatic negotiations, which ultimately led President Clinton to appoint him as his representative to the United Nations in 1997.
The next year he became Mr. Clinton’s energy secretary, serving through to the end of the administration.
In 2002, he became the only Hispanic leader of a US state when he won the New Mexico governorship.
His enduring popularity in the state saw him re-elected to a second term in 2006 by a record margin of 68% to 32%.
His success in office sparked a renewed interest in national politics, and in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, he launched a long-shot bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination.
Despite playing a key role in Mr Clinton’s cabinet, his public endorsement of Barack Obama after his withdrawal – instead of Hilary Clinton – was viewed as a betrayal by many Clinton supporters.
Mr. Obama later nominated him as secretary of commerce, but he withdrew because of a pending investigation into allegations of improper business dealings – a probe that was later dropped.
Soon after leaving the governorship in 2011, he launched his non-profit foundation, the Richardson Centre for Global Engagement, where he renewed his work seeking the release of detained Americans.
He was involved in efforts to release US basketball star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison in December after she was convicted of a drug offense.
He also met with Russian government officials in the months prior to the release of US Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap.
And in 2021, he helped broker a deal for the release of American journalist Danny Fenster from a Myanmar prison.
Previously, he helped secure the release of US nationals detained in North Korea and he also held talks with Pyongyang diplomats in efforts to calm tensions between the two Koreas.
His work dealing with autocratic regimes once saw him jokingly refer to himself as the “informal under secretary for thugs”. But his work saw him nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.
The Richardson Centre hailed him as a “champion for those held unjustly abroad”.
“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,” the foundation said in a statement.
“There was no person that Governor Richardson would not speak with if it held the promise of returning a person to freedom.”
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez led tributes to Mr. Richardson, who he called “a quintessential public servant in every sense of the word”.
“He was dedicated to improving the lives of those around him – whether it was the people of New Mexico as our nation’s only Hispanic governor during his two terms or many Americans unjustly detained by despotic regimes around the world.”
Reacting to news of the top diplomat’s death, New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich said: “Richardson’s legacy will have a lasting impact.”