Dennis Richardson, Oregon secretary of state, dies following battle with cancer

Marcus Larson/News-Register file photo##Dennis Richardson speaking in May 2018 to the Yamhill County Republican Women.
Marcus Larson/News-Register file photo##Dennis Richardson speaking in May 2018 to the Yamhill County Republican Women.

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, the highest-ranking Republican in Oregon state government, has died after a battle with brain cancer. He was 69.

Richardson's office said in a statement that he died at home Tuesday night surrounded by family and friends.

Richardson announced in June that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer in May. As he battled the disease, he kept working, encouraging Oregonians to register to vote, using social media as a pro-democracy tool and overseeing audits done by his office's audit team. As secretary of state, Richardson was Oregon's top elections official.

Gov. Kate Brown ordered all flags at public institutions to be flown at half-staff in honor of Richardson.

Brown will appoint Richardson's successor. In a statement her office said she would make a choice in the coming weeks and would consider a Republican who commits to not entering the 2020 election.

“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,” Brown said.

A combat helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, Richardson, 69, stood up for veterans, including appearing in a video on Oct. 5 promoting a business luncheon aimed at giving them more business opportunities.

He supported diversity, promoting a “Black in Oregon, 1840-1870” exhibit this year at the Oregon State Archives, an agency of his office.

“It reminds us that, although we have come a long way on the path of freedom and equality, we still have much to do if we truly are committed to ‘liberty and justice for all,’” he wrote.

Richardson and his wife Cathy have eight daughters, one of them adopted. As such, he paid special interest to the state's substandard foster care system. An audit conducted by his office, released in February, said caseworkers were strained to the breaking point amid a drop in available foster homes for 11,000 youngsters and cited management shortcomings.

“This isn't a problem for the governor to fix, not a problem for the Legislature just to fix. It's our problem. These are our children,” Richardson told journalists.

On Aug. 28, he appeared in a video on his office's Facebook page, speaking in a hoarse voice and saying he was fatigued from the strong medications he was receiving, but insisting he was doing well in fighting the illness while fighting for Oregonians as secretary of state.

“I am still on the job, and all in for Oregon,” he said.

But on Oct. 16, he advised his two colleagues on the State Land Board, Brown and state Treasurer Tobias Read, that he was not well enough to attend a scheduled meeting the next day. He assigned Deputy Secretary of State Leslie Cummings to attend the meetings for the duration of his cancer treatment.

Richardson was elected to the second-highest office of the state in 2016, two years after running unsuccessfully for governor as the Republican nominee, losing to Democrat John Kitzhaber. He earlier on was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 2002, where he served six terms for 12 years.

A Mormon, Richardson received his bachelor and law degrees from Brigham Young University. He then set up a law practice in the Central Point, Oregon, where he worked for more than 30 years.

House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, aid in a statement that Oregon had “suffered a great loss.”

“Dennis was a steadfast man who loved family, his country, the State of Oregon, and the people he served,” Wilson said.


Other statements released in the wake of his passing include:

Deputy Secretary of State Leslie Cummings: "As Secretary of State, Dennis was fiercely dedicated to accomplishing the work the people of Oregon elected him to do. Upon taking the reins of this office in January 2017, Dennis’ visionary leadership built on the strengths of the 227 Secretary of State staff members. Together, Dennis and this dedicated team of public servants improved the program business practices of Audits, Elections, Archives, Corporations and Small Business, and the three Administrative Services Divisions of the agency. He also brought many professional and personal gifts and experience to this office. Dennis’ focus on transparency, accountability, and integrity coupled with his uncompromising work ethic inspired staff to “up their games” to move mountains.

"If you spent time with Dennis, it wouldn’t be long before he shared with you his personal motto of “Pro Tanto Quid Retribuamus,” which means: Having been given much, what will you give in return? This philosophy influenced every aspect of Dennis’ life and became the hallmark by which many knew him. His challenge to us in the Secretary of State’s office is to give our very best to each other and to Oregon each and every day.

"Dennis leaves a legacy of always aiming high, expecting excellence, moving fast, and doing what is right for the people. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with such an incredible leader and wonderful friend. He will be greatly missed."

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici: "I had the honor of working with Sec. Richardson when we served together in the Oregon State Legislature, and I always valued his contributions and commitment. He was a great public servant who dedicated much of his life to Oregon and our country."

Treasurer Tobias Read: "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.”

State Senator Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger: “Oregon has lost a great and noble man. 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.”

State Lands Director Vicki Walker: "Throughout Secretary Richardson’s time on the State Land Board, he persistently sought to preserve Oregon’s Common School Fund legacy by advocating for actions that would most benefit Oregonians and their public schools.

"Secretary Richardson’s expectations of accountable government raised the bar for the service provided by the Department of State Lands and state government. His dedication to good government set an example for us all, and he will be greatly missed."

State Senator Jackie Winters: "Oregon has lost a tireless warrior who continuously motivated those around him with his powerful presence, and strong ethics. It was my honor to serve in the Legislature with Dennis and to call him my friend. I am grateful for our phone calls and the opportunities I had to tell him how proud I was of him."

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum: "Dennis was a wonderful and caring person—and, the quintessential public servant. His optimism for making Oregon stronger and fairer was contagious. I will miss our 'check-in' lunches in Salem, where we talked about a wide variety of topics affecting both of our agencies. At our last lunch he gave me a coin with his motto engraved on it: 'Having been given much, what will you give in return?' I will treasure it always." 



Dennis Richardson was an honorable man. A humble fellow with a quiet wit and a fierce dedication to the people of Oregon, Dennis could count many friends on both sides of the aisle. People of such strength and character are increasingly rare — we just lost one of the good ones.


I second Trafik's comments. Every time I visited his legislative office, Richardson was gracious, patient and open with our advocates, often meeting with us in the evening hours after long legislative hearings. He was a consummate gentleman, and a true servant of the people of Oregon. He will be missed.


Richardson was one of the good guys. He deserved to be governor. I hope that whoever succeeds him continues audits of the various government agencies.

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