Former New Mexico Governor, United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson Dead at 75

Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico and ambassador to the United Nations, has died. He was 75 years old.

Mickey Bergman, vice president of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which Richardson founded, confirmed in a statement to PEOPLE that the former politician died in his sleep at his summer home in Chatham, Massachusetts, on Friday. The cause of death has not been released.

“He lived his entire life serving others — including time in government and a later career helping to free people who were held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas,” Bergman said. “There isn’t a person Governor Richardson wouldn’t talk to if it promised the person’s return to freedom. The world has lost a champion for those unjustly held abroad, and I’ve lost a mentor and a dear friend.”

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson died on Friday at the age of 75.

Carlos Alvarez/Getty

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Calling Richardson “a patriot and a true original,” President Joe Biden said in a statement to CNN: “Over the years, I have seen firsthand his passion for politics, his love for America and his unwavering belief that, with respect and good faith, people can meet any difference, no matter how big.”

Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a joint statement to CNN remembering Richardson as a “dedicated public servant and skilled diplomat.”

“Whether in an official or unofficial capacity, he was a skilled and tenacious negotiator who helped make our world safer and won the release of many individuals unjustly held abroad,” the Clintons said.

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In the span of several decades of Richardson’s political career, the diplomat was nominated for four Nobel Peace Prizes and successfully negotiated the release of hostages in North Korea, Cuba, Iraq and Sudan.

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His career in public service began in 1982 when he was appointed to New Mexico’s third district in the House of Representatives and served as a congressman until 1996. A year later he was appointed US ambassador to the United Nations, before serving under former President Clinton, 77 , as Minister of Energy from 1998 to 2000.

In 2003, Richardson was elected governor of New Mexico, a role in which he sought to improve access to renewable energy, education, immigration and civil rights, as well as public commuter rail transportation known as the Rail Runner. During his two terms, he also taught at the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University.

Richardson ran for president under the Democratic nomination in 2008 before later dropping out and retiring from public service in 2011, according to his biography on the Richardson Center website.

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That same year, he founded the Richardson Center, which “promotes global peace and dialogue” through diplomacy, according to the organization’s mission statement. He also started the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Foundation with actor and environmentalist Robert Redford to prevent the slaughter of wild horses.

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In addition to sitting on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, Richardson has published three books and appeared on numerous television political programs.

He left behind his wife Barbara, whom he married in 1972, and daughter Heather Blaine.

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