I’m not a fan of cigar smoke, but I could listen to Bill Richardson hold court all evening long as he slowly chewed on and smoked a cigar. Listening to him and learning from him — it was worth it.
The Governor - as most of us still referred to him - passed away this month. His public service provides a model of the leadership we desperately need in our country and world. He was not just a treasure to New Mexico or the Southwest; he was one of America’s great leaders, diplomats, and statesmen.
The Governor served in the United States House of Representatives as governor of his beloved New Mexico, US Ambassador to the United Nations, and Secretary of Energy. He was outgoing and friendly, quick-witted and sharp-tongued, super intelligent, and very strategic. He continued serving our country in so many ways (seen and unseen) even after he left office, a rarity for former cabinet officials and presidential candidates.
He was also one of relatively few Latinos to successfully break into the upper echelons of politics and power and a mentor, role model, and friend to me and my generation.
When Governor Richardson ran for President of the United States in 2008, I was a surrogate for his campaign. I traveled to several other states, speaking to groups and campaigning on his behalf. In many campaigns, that can be a challenging role to take on. But doing it for the Governor was easy because he was authentic, genuine, and committed to those he served.
To this day, I think he had the funniest and best TV ads I’ve ever seen for a presidential candidate. His ads were a humorous take on a job interview — an experience many people could relate to. They didn’t attack others or make you mad. Instead, they highlighted his credentials and experience while bringing a smile to your face.
What I appreciated most about Governor Richardson was his humanity. He negotiated for the release of Americans held around the world because he empathized not only with them — but with their families here at home who agonized over their imprisonment in a foreign land.
His humanity was also on full display when he would take time to talk to my son, who was still very young, about politics and current events. Governor Richardson made a huge impression on a young mind.
He never forgot that I had been willing to help him. And he was always willing to return the favor whenever I called on him for help or advice. He even dropped by my office in San Antonio entirely unannounced, just to check in and visit. And for that, I was always willing to breathe in his cigar smoke.
Descanse en paz, Governador. Su servicio a nuestro país a terminado, pero sus hechos vivirán. Rest in peace, Governor. Your service to our country is over, but your deeds will live on.