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A farewell to Dennis Richardson

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Family and friends gathered for a memorial for Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson on Monday, giving an emotional farewell to a man who put down roots in Southern Oregon with barely a penny in his pocket.

“When he graduated from law school, he came to Central Point to start his own practice,” remembered Kelly Andersen, a Medford lawyer who went to Brigham Young University with Richardson. “It was a very gutsy thing to do, because he was flat broke at the time.”

Richardson died Feb. 26 at age 69 after a long battle with brain cancer. He is survived by his wife, Cathy, nine children and 31 grandchildren.

More than 300 people showed up for the funeral next to the Medford Oregon Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Family members had set up tables displaying photos and memorabilia from Richardson’s life, including his helicopter combat helmet from Vietnam and a photo with former President Ronald Reagan.

Richardson, the 26th secretary of state of Oregon, will lie in state for public viewing from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the rotunda of the Oregon State Capitol at 900 Court St. NE in Salem. A state funeral will follow in the House Chamber from 2 to 3:45 p.m. All are welcome.

Richardson was born July 30, 1949, in Los Angeles. He served as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War before earning a law degree from Brigham Young University. He was a lawyer in private practice for many years.

He served on Central Point City Council, was treasurer of the state Republican Party and GOP chairman of the Second Congressional District before running for state representative in 2002. He served six terms, rising to co-chairman of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee in 2011, when the House was split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Richardson ran for governor in 2014, losing to Gov. John Kitzhaber in a hard-fought campaign. Kitzhaber won but quickly resigned over an influence peddling scandal involving his fiancée. In 2016, Richardson made a bid for secretary of state, and became the first Republican to win statewide office in 16 years.

During the service, Richardson’s family sang hymns and friends praised his commitment to family, church and the state of Oregon.

Andersen said Richardson was always a risk taker, and his decision to establish a practice in Central Point paid off. Within two years, Richardson had a thriving business, Andersen said.

Richardson’s determination and ability to pour over budgets and legislative bills was one of his hallmarks.

When he was a legislator, he would stay up until 2 a.m. to write a weekly newsletter that he sent out by email to Oregonians, Andersen recalled.

When he needed to pass the Oregon Bar, Richardson decided not to go to school, but instead to study on his own.

He decided to prepare himself by listening to records at two or three times their normal speed, turning voices into strange chipmunk sounds.

“He was listening to this at rocket speeds,” recalled Andersen.

Larry Barrett said he remembered moving to Gold Hill around the same time as Richardson in 1979.

“I am a better man today because I had a good friend in Dennis,” he said.

Barrett said Richardson, unlike many legislators, would read entire bills before voting on them, and he said Richardson devoted himself to everything thoroughly.

“He knew the Oregon budget like you and I know our own checkbook,” he said.

When Richardson’s children were young, Barrett remembered a day when Richardson’s daughter, Rachel Whoolery, was playing inside a refrigerator box, squealing in delight that she was trapped inside it, upside down.

Whoolery was more interested in playing inside the box than in going into town for a girls’ day in Medford.

“‘I see you’re upside down and stuck in the box,’” Barrett remembers Richardson saying. He gave his daughter a chance to squeal a little more before she finally came out.

“That is the way Dennis negotiated in everything,” he said.

Church Bishop Brandan Hull said he saw Richardson a few times when the illness was beginning to affect his speech.

“He told me how much Cathy has cared for him,” Hull said. “He told me, ‘I’ve been shown so much love.’”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com Follow him on www.twitter.com.reporterdm.

Family members embrace after a memorial service for Dennis Richardson at the Medford Oregon Temple in Central Point on Monday. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune
Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson's casket is carried out by family after a memorial service at the Medford Oregon Temple in Central Point on Monday. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune