How New Mexico governor found most important calling


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It was late winter in Santa Fe, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had spent a long morning on conference calls in his office – part of high-stakes efforts to help free Americans unjustly detained in Russia, Iran and China.

By midday, he was ready for a break at his regular lunch joint. He walked in – greeted with “Hey Guv!” – and sat at a barstool. Over a tamale, he traded jokes and trivia with friends. Though he hadn’t been governor in a decade, and his private work was now focused overseas, one man approached him for help with an immigration problem. Richardson listened, then leaned in, asking, “What do we need to do?” 

Richardson, who died Friday, had a mix of powerful connections and down-to-earth affability that was on constant display, especially in hostage diplomacy, the accidental vocation that came to define his life.

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson outside the Richardson Center for Global Engagement in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

His political career, though standout, had been traditional  – Congress, the cabinet, a governorship, and a run for president. Yet he grew into one of the country’s highest-profile private players working to free Americans imprisoned abroad, a job that was distinguished by being outside the government, rather than inside it. 



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