Clinton lauds Richardson's public service during funeral Mass for former governor

Sep. 14—Even in death, Bill Richardson proved he could attract a crowd.

Including an ex-president.

Former President Bill Clinton, whose relationship with the onetime New Mexico governor, United Nations ambassador and Cabinet secretary had its share of ups and downs, eulogized his friend with equal parts warmth and humor Thursday at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. He told about 1,000 mourners Richardson "had a certain childlike wonder about him that made him take risks."

Clinton, 77, was one of many dignitaries who traveled to Santa Fe for Richardson's funeral Mass. Near the end of the two-hour service, he provided some personal and professional memories of his long friendship with Richardson, which dated to the mid-1980s.

Speaking in a sometimes raspy voice from the cathedral's lectern, Clinton said Richardson understood "It's OK to want to win, but to do things worthwhile you have to risk losing, and if you do, you gotta dust yourself off and get back in the arena."

Clinton, who entered the church holding the hands of Richardson's widow Barbara and sister Vesta, said the two-term New Mexico governor knew how to make everyone he met "feel important and valued" — a trait that served him well whether he was negotiating for the release of hostages from a foreign nation or trying to build support for an initiative he thought would benefit the state.

Clinton said he and Richardson, who died Sept. 1 in Massachusetts, had a lot in common — starting with their first political campaigns in 1980, which both men lost. He noted they also managed to win their second races, launching long and parallel political careers in the Democratic Party.

Richardson was successful at dealing with people, including dictators of other countries, because he knew that even "bad guys" were capable of doing good, Clinton said.

"A person may have bad ideas ... may be twisted beyond untwisting, but once in a while they do the right thing, anyway," he said. "Bill Richardson knew that."

The former president, whose appearance was not announced prior to the service, seemed to allude to a rift that developed between them in 2008, when Richardson chose to endorse Barack Obama for president rather than Hillary Clinton after ending his own bid for the office.

He told mourners they had two big fights during their long friendship, though he did not say what they were about.

"In one, I'm proud to say I was able to apologize to him and tell him I thought he was right," Clinton recalled "And in one I'm grateful he mustered the courage to ask me to forgive him. That's what real people try to do with their lives."

Clinton arrived at the cathedral Thursday morning amid hundreds of other mourners and followed the casket into the cathedral as a group of Native Americans performed a ceremonial song.

Former Gov. Susana Martinez and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland attended the Mass, as did former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who had been detained for three years in Russia. Richardson helped negotiate Reed's release.

Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester, who presided over the Mass, said Richardson "responded to those who came to him for help and went out of his way to help those in need."

Wester said Richardson's Catholic faith drove him as a human being and political leader.

Using a baseball analogy, Wester described Richardson, who played the sport in his youth, as a man who was safe on first base but would take chances — always going for second base — to do good.

"He took risks to get things done: clean energy, improving education and health care, advocating for migrants, ending the death penalty," Wester said. "It takes risk to be a governor, to be a political official."

Richardson became renowned on the international political stage for his efforts to free Americans held hostage in foreign countries including Cuba, North Korea, Sudan and Russia.

Clinton joked "the bad guys" — dictators who had imprisoned U.S. citizens for one reason or another — liked Richardson. That's because he somehow looked past their surface veneers and tyrannical ways to see if there was a hint of good in them somewhere, Clinton said.

"He believed in freedom," Clinton said of Richardson. "He believed in the rule of law. He believed he should talk to anybody who could do some good —whether the person was doing good or not."

He said one has to have courage to travel to foreign places where Americans are not welcome, and Richardson embodied that trait, including "the courage to fail."

And sometimes Richardson did not succeed in his hostage negotiations, Clinton said.

"There were times when Bill tried to get people out that he couldn't," he said. "There were times he tried to talk people out of doing bad, destructive things and he didn't. And I know how he felt."

He called Richardson's life "a gift" to the world.

Richardson was not deterred by struggles on the diplomatic front. After his second term as governor ended, he founded the Richardson Center for Global Engagement in Santa Fe. He was nominated in August for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work to free hostages and political prisoners in other countries — 15 in a span of 14 months. The nomination, by four U.S. senators, including Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, was one of several Nobel nominations the former governor received throughout his career.

During a short reception held in the rotunda of the Capitol following the funeral service, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who attended the funeral Mass, told the assembly of several hundred people Richardson "taught us what seems to be impossible somewhere else is not impossible in New Mexico."

Leading a collective champagne toast to Richardson, Lujan Grisham said, "Rest in peace, my friend. Thank you for making us all the best that we can be."