AP NEWS

Late Secretary of State memorialized in state funeral

March 7, 2019
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The wife and daughters of Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson hug in front of his casket in the capitol rotunda during the state funeral for him at the Oregon state Capitol in Salem, Ore., Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Former Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who died in office last month following a battle with brain cancer, was honored Wednesday at a state funeral with stories about his devotion to his faith, family and the state.

Richardson, 69, was Oregon’s top elections official and held the second-highest office in the state after the governor. He was the highest-ranking Republican in state government and was the first Republican elected to statewide office in years.

Lawmakers and colleagues paid their respects during a state funeral on the floor of the Oregon House of Representatives, where Richardson served for 12 years.

Through tears and laughter, acting Secretary of State Leslie Cummings praised Richardson for wholehearted dedication to public service, recalling that Richardson would often work from early in the morning until late at night, and would bring such an enthusiasm to his work that his colleagues called him the “Energizer Bunny.”

Richardson prioritized election fairness and conducting thorough audits on the state’s ailing foster care system, Portland Public Schools and the state’s Medicaid program.

Cummings took over day-to-day operations last October, about four months after Richardson publicly announced he was diagnosed with cancer. 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.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown remarked in her eulogy that he was a respected friend and mentor to colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

“Dennis embodied what it means to be a dedicated public servant: hardworking, passionate, and wholeheartedly committed to making Oregon a better place on behalf of those he represented,” she said.

Brown will appoint Richardson’s successor in the coming weeks. Her office said she would consider a Republican who commits to not entering the 2020 election.

During the funeral, Richardson, a former combat helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, was accorded full military honors, including a 21-gun salute from the Oregon National Guard outside the Capitol.

He will be buried in Medford, near his hometown of Central Point. Born in Los Angeles, he opened his own law practice in Oregon after graduating from Brigham Young University. A devout Mormon, he and his wife Cathy have nine children and 31 grandchildren.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, the only Republican member of Oregon’s congressional delegation, remarked that Richardson’s “quiet competence and civility were a rarity in today’s world.”

This was Oregon’s first state funeral since 1983 for former Gov. Tom McCall.

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Follow Sarah Zimmerman at @sarahzimm95