I wanted to pay my respects, so I planned on attending the ceremony if it was open to the public. If it wasn’t open, I would have gladly crashed it.
Despite the massive crowds and police presence at the Cathedral Basilica St. Francis Assisi, and folks carrying what I thought were invitations, it was indeed open to the public. I grabbed the next-to-the-last pew, way in the corner in the back, but I got in, along with a thousand others.
I had met the former Governor, Secretary of Energy, Congressman, and international hostage rescuer only once, maybe 15 years ago, at an event at the University of New Mexico. He was standing alone, and wearing a fringed leather jacket, looking relaxed and amiable.
One of his superpowers apparently was to make people feel really comfortable and important. I approached him to meet him of course, and tell him a story.
One of his staffers had requested that I sign an original La Cucaracha comic strip in which the governor had appeared so that he could be presented with it.
I said that of course I would, and that my originals were for sale for $150 each. The staffer said he would want to get it from me for free. I said no thank you. The staffer was miffed and never contacted me again. Richardson said that of course, “you should be paid for your original art, vato,” and that he would purchase the piece. He gave me his card, and I thanked him, and also complimented his jacket.
He was our Chicano diplomat, and really did a lot for the State of New Mexico.
He wasn’t perfect, but as former President Bill Clinton joked during his eulogy, “The other Bill” was a very successful negotiator because “bad people seem to like him.”
That the families of people he brought home, or tried to bring home, attended this packed funeral was a testament to his skills and his commitment to lifelong public service.
He was a good vato.
QEPD y RIP Bill Richardson (1947-2023).