Colleagues pay tribute to late Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson

Dennis Richardson’s friends and colleagues from both political stripes remembered him Wednesday for his integrity, warmth, kindness and perseverance.

Richardson, a veteran state legislator who became Oregon’s secretary of state, died about 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, at his Central Point home, surrounded by family and friends. He had fought cancer since his June 2018 diagnosis.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement Wednesday, Feb. 27, that she was saddened to “wake up to the news of the death of my friend.”

“Dennis was a wonderful and caring person — and, the quintessential public servant. His optimism for making Oregon stronger and fairer was contagious,” she wrote. “I will miss our ‘check-in’ lunches in Salem, where we talked about a wide variety of topics affecting both of our agencies.”

At their last lunch together, he gave Rosenblum a coin engraved with his motto: “Having been given much, what will you give in return?”

“I will treasure it always,” Rosenblum wrote. “From the Oregon Department of Justice, we send our condolences to his wife and family, friends and community. And we will all take Dennis’ motto to heart as we continue the work of making Oregon better every day. Thank you, Secretary Richardson, for your extraordinary contributions to our state. You will be greatly missed.”

State Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle said in a statement that “Richardson was deeply committed to public service and was a loving husband and father.”

Hoyle said Richardson “battled cancer with the same quiet dignity in which he served.”

“I last saw him at my swearing-in ceremony in January, and I was honored that he and his wife made the effort to be there for me that day,” she said. “Despite our political disagreements, I always knew Dennis to be a kind man who truly cared about people and our state.”

Gov. Kate Brown started the morning Feb. 27 by ordering flags at Oregon public institutions to be flown at half-staff in honor of Richardson and from sunset to sundown on the day of his funeral.

Brown said she and her husband, Dan Little, are saddened by the news. “Our hearts are with Secretary of State Richardson’s family, friends and fellow lawmakers today,” she wrote in a statement. “Regardless of what side of the aisle his colleagues sat on, we all knew Dennis’ kind heart guided his career of service to the people of Oregon. His reputation for perseverance not only guided him through the fight with cancer, it also gave us all reassurance that he was fighting cancer with the same determination he brought to work every day.”

The outpouring of grief continued throughout the morning. Here are some of the ways that his colleagues and friends remembered him:

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dennis Richardson. I will always have fond memories of serving with Dennis in the state legislature, and tremendous appreciation for his dedication to serving our state. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. Rest in peace, Mr. Secretary.”

Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem

“Oregon has lost a tireless warrior who continuously motivated those around him with his powerful presence and strong ethics.

“He was a man of great faith, and he lived out his faith every day of his life. I would like to thank his family for sharing him with us for all these years.”

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland

“He was a man of integrity and a dedicated public servant. Secretary Richardson lived and served with distinction. My heart goes out to his family during this difficult time.”

Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr., of Grants Pass

 “Secretary Richardson dedicated his life to public service and our state and country are better for it. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Richardson family today. I have lost one of my closest friends.”

Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland

“He served his country with distinction in the military. He served his community of Southern Oregon and the State of Oregon with integrity and dedication. I had the pleasure of serving with Secretary Richardson in the Legislature for many years. He loved this state and we will miss him.”

House Republican Leader Carl Wilson, Grants Pass

“We have suffered a great loss with the passing of Dennis Richardson. Dennis was a steadfast man who loved family, his country, the State of Oregon, and the people he served. This loss is a difficult one for us all. His death will be deeply mourned by all his former colleagues in the Oregon House of Representatives.”

House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland

“I had the pleasure of serving with Secretary Richardson in the Oregon House and what I learned about him then and in the subsequent years was that, above all else, he was a dedicated husband, father, grandfather and public servant. I send my deepest condolences to Dennis’ wife Cathy, his children, grandchildren and all who had the pleasure of knowing him. His legacy of service to the state of Oregon will not be forgotten.”

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem

“He was dedicated to his faith and family, his community and his country. He was dedicated to Oregon. He was a budget hawk. He cared about people. I will miss him.”

Former Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who served on the powerful Joint Ways & Means Committee with Richardson, said he a “passionate” advocate for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Treasurer Tobias Read, a Democrat and former state representative, praised Richardson’s “diligence” and “energy.”

“Richardson served his country and Oregonians as a member of the armed forces in Vietnam, and in public office,” Read said. “More importantly, he was devoted to his family who loved and supported him at every step of the way. Although we did not always agree politically, I had respect for the diligence and the energy he brought to his work. Oregon has lost an honorable public servant. My thoughts are with Cathy Richardson, his family and friends.”

Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain

“Dennis Richardson spent his career as a dedicated servant to the state of Oregon. During his six terms as a state representative and his time as Oregon secretary of state, he put his service to Oregon ahead of all else. He brought a spirit of perseverance, determination and a hard work ethic to each office he served. The Oregon AFL-CIO extends our sincere condolences to Mr. Richardson’s family and those who are close to him during this difficult time.”

Paris Achen and Claire Withycombe, who contributed to this report, are reporters for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, Pamplin Media Group and Salem Reporter.