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Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who worked to free Americans detained abroad, dies at 75

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who also served in Congress, as ambassador to the U.N. and as energy secretary in the Clinton administration, has died, according to the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, the organization he founded to promote international peace and dialogue. He was 75.

Richardson died at his summer home in Chatham, Massachusetts, the organization said.

"Governor Richardson passed away peacefully in his sleep last night. He lived his entire life in the service of others – including both his time in government and his subsequent career helping to free people held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad," Mickey Bergman, vice president of the Richardson Center, said in a statement Saturday.

"The world has lost a champion for those held unjustly abroad and I have lost a mentor and a dear friend," the statement added.

Richardson was first elected to New Mexico's newly formed Third Congressional District in 1982. Richardson served in the U.S. House until 1997 when he was appointed by President Bill Clinton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He later served as Secretary of Energy from 1998 to 2000.

PHOTO: In this Jan. 3, 2008, file photo, Democratic presidential hopeful New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson speaks at his caucus watch party in Des Moines, Iowa. (David Lienemann/AP, FILE)
PHOTO: In this Jan. 3, 2008, file photo, Democratic presidential hopeful New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson speaks at his caucus watch party in Des Moines, Iowa. (David Lienemann/AP, FILE)

He was elected governor of New Mexico in 2002. His accomplishments as governor, according to the Richardson Center, included improving the state's job numbers and boosting economic development by bringing the movie industry to New Mexico, which resulted in more than 140 major film and TV productions. He also built a light-rail system from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, and partnered with Virgin Galactic to build a commercial spaceport.

In 2008, he sought the Democratic nomination for president, dropping out after Iowa and New Hampshire.

After serving two terms as governor, Richardson turned his attention to global conflict resolution and the release of political prisoners, particularly Americans wrongfully detained abroad. The Richardson Center, founded in 2011, is credited with successfully negotiating the release of hostages and people imprisoned in several countries including North Korea, Colombia, Sudan, Cuba and Myanmar.

Richardson was involved with recent efforts to bring home WNBA star Brittney Griner and U.S. Marine Trevor Reed.

MORE: Former Gov. Bill Richardson calls for 'Brittany Griner-type campaign' to free WSJ reporter and other American detainees

For his work as a diplomat and prisoner negotiator, Richardson was nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Richardson also co-founded the Foundation to Preserve New Mexico Wildlife with actor Robert Redford.

President Joe Biden remembered Richardson as a "patriot and true original" who "seized every chance to serve and met every new challenge with joy."

"Few have served our nation in as many capacities or with as much relentlessness, creativity, and good cheer," Biden said in a written statement on Saturday, noting Richardson's roles as an ambassador, a Cabinet secretary, a governor and a congressman.

"But perhaps his most lasting legacy will be the work Bill did to free Americans held in some of the most dangerous places on Earth," Biden added.

The president noted the two first crossed paths when Richardson was a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Biden served on as senator.

"Over the years, I saw firsthand his passion for politics, love for America, and unflagging belief that, with respect and good faith, people can come together across any difference, no matter how vast," Biden said.

MORE: Former Gov. Bill Richardson to travel to Moscow for talks on freeing Brittney Griner: Source

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Richardson was "driven by a fierce belief in the power of diplomacy."

"He demonstrated the value of engagement and charted an inspiring path for future generations of public servants to follow," Blinken said in a statement.

"I'm sad to hear of former NM Gov Bill Richardson's passing," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who previously served as a U.S. representative from New Mexico, said in a statement Saturday. "He was a champion for Tribes, elevating Indian Affairs to a cabinet level. He helped me ensure Native students received in-state tuition. He was a true friend and one of our country's valued diplomats."

Former Vice President Al Gore, who served alongside Richardson in the Clinton administration, said in a statement, "He was an exceptional public servant, a relentless advocate for those unjustly held overseas and a true friend. I send my deepest condolences to the Richardson family during this difficult time."

Richardson was born in Pasadena, California, and grew up in Mexico City and in Concord, Massachusetts. His parents were of Mexican descent. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science and French from Tufts in 1970 and a master's degree from Tuft's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1971.

Richardson is survived by his wife, Barbara, and a daughter.

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who worked to free Americans detained abroad, dies at 75 originally appeared on abcnews.go.com