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Dennis Richardson

Oregon Republican Secretary of State candidate Dennis Richardson greets supporters in November 2016 in Salem. Richardson died Feb. 26 at age 69 after a battle with brain cancer.

In the cascade of tributes that poured out last week after the death of Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, here's a story that caught our eye.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum recalled the lunches she frequently had with Richardson, who died Feb. 26 of brain cancer at age 69. At these "check-in" lunches, Rosenblum said, the two would compare notes about a variety of topics that affected both of their agencies.

At their last lunch, Rosenblum said, Richardson gave her a coin that was engraved with these words: "Having been given much, what will you give in return?"

The words — or, more precisely, the Latin original, “Pro Tanto Quid Retribuamus” — served as Richardson's official motto.

By all accounts, they were words Richardson lived by.

This was a man who served in Vietnam, running rescue missions as a helicopter pilot. After his wartime experiences, he branched out into a different kind of service, becoming a trial lawyer and then serving six terms in the state Legislature.

Richardson earned a reputation for hard work during legislative sessions: As a member of the House of Representatives, it wasn't unusual for him to be the last legislator to leave the Capitol building.  

In 2014, he ran for governor against John Kitzhaber, who was seeking his fourth term. The underfunded Richardson campaign had difficulty getting traction, but the debates between the two men always were cordial, although spirited. Kitzhaber prevailed by 6 percentage points. 

It says something about Richardson that after losing that election, he took a year off to serve a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 2016, after being persuaded to run for secretary of state, he defeated Democrat Brad Avakian, become the first Republican to win statewide office in Oregon in nearly two decades.

In the secretary of state's office, Richardson prioritized a series of audits of state government operations that occasionally drew criticism but often highlighted areas that needed improvement. His deep dive into the problems facing the state's foster care system may have been fueled to some extent by his personal life: One of his daughters, Mary Burnell, was adopted from a foster home. "It was amazing being adopted into the Richardson family, so warm and welcoming," she said in a video released as part of the 2016 campaign. "I had never had anything like that."

And, to his credit, Richardson continued a grand tradition of the secretary of state's office, becoming a fierce advocate of voting access. That work contrasted dramatically with efforts by some of his counterparts around the nation who aimed to limit the very voting rights Richardson championed. 

Richardson always came across as upbeat and optimistic — in fact, it seemed he was confident that he would beat the cancer that had forced him to curtail his official activities: At the time of his death, he was mounting a re-election campaign for 2020.

When people remember Richardson, though, they're likely to first remember that passion for service. The words of his personal motto are words that we would do well to keep in mind: Having been given much, what will we give in return?

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