SANTA FE — The magnitude of the man was matched by the crowd at his funeral.
Hundreds packed the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi for former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s funeral on Thursday, which started out with Native American chants by members of the Jemez Pueblo. Former President Bill Clinton sat in the front row next to Richardson’s widow, Barbara, and delivered a eulogy to end the ceremony.
Also in attendance were Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and John Podesta, a special adviser to President Joe Biden. Former prisoners, such as Trevor Reed, whose release Richardson helped secure when Reed was imprisoned for three years in Russia, also gathered at the church to remember the former governor and diplomat.
Richardson died in his sleep on Sept. 2 in his home in Massachusetts at age 75. Richardson was New Mexico’s 30th governor, serving from 2003 to 2011. During his time as governor, Richardson boosted the New Mexico film industry, abolished the death penalty and promoted clean energy, among his other priorities.
He moved to New Mexico in 1978 and became executive director of the Democratic Party of New Mexico. He was first elected to the U.S. Congress in 1982.
He was part of Clinton’s administration as an ambassador to the United Nations, where he found success in negotiating the release of American prisoners by authoritarian regimes, which Richardson continued to do through the end of his life. Richardson was also Clinton’s secretary of the Department of Energy.
Clinton spoke for about 30-minutes about Richardson, who Clinton referred to as a friend.
“We’re all blessed,” Clinton said. “The life of public service he sows made people’s lives better in New Mexico, across the country and around the world.”
The former president said before he brought Richardson into his administration, Richardson had already succeeded by getting two prisoners released from Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Richardson was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on that front.
“The bad guys liked him, but there’s a reason for that,” Clinton said. “If you scratch hard enough and long enough on anybody there’s almost always still a person down there somewhere…
“Bill Richardson knew that.”
Clinton also said Richardson was at the forefront of clean energy, which Richardson worked on while leading the Energy Department. Clinton referenced the national laboratories in New Mexico, calling them “job-creating jewels” that help to keep the world at peace.
“He believed in making a transfer to clean energy before it was fashionable,” Clinton said.
Much of the funeral was also dedicated to Richardson’s sense of humor and personality.
“His energy was infectious, his skills were prodigious,” Clinton said. “His life was a gift, and I’m so glad that we?each in our different ways received it.”
Archbishop of Santa Fe John Wester, who presided over the service, recalled a story when Richardson was playing baseball and put a prized crucifix in his back pocket, which injured Richardson as he slid into second base.
Wester said Richardson later joked that the injury showed his faith was “embedded” deep into him. The story also symbolized Richardson’s courage, Wester said, which shined in his work on unofficial diplomatic missions to try to get American prisoners released.
“I think this is what faith means to Bill Richardson, to be a risk-taker, not content to play it safe,” Wester said.
No matter the person, Clinton said Richardson would find a way to connect with them.
“Bill Richardson knew how to make people feel important and valued,” Clinton said.