John Richardson shares a light moment with fellow House leaders in this 2006 file photo. The former House speaker died at age 62 on Wednesday. Credit: Bridget Brown / BDN

John Richardson, who was a top Maine legislator and served as economic development commissioner under Gov. John Baldacci, died on Tuesday at age 62. 

The Democrat died of an apparent heart attack, according to his friend and political protege, former state Rep. Eddie DuGay, D-Cherryfield. He is survived by his wife, physician Stephanie Grohs, and three children.

Richardson, a lawyer who was elected House speaker in 2005, also served as House majority leader, a Democratic state representative from 1998 to 2006, a television commentator on Maine politics and a Brunswick Town Council member.

He was known for working well with Republican counterparts and for having a sharp, occasionally biting but enjoyable sense of humor, DuGay said.

Among DuGay’s fondest memories of Richardson was when the two met Fidel Castro during a 2005 trade junket to Cuba that led to Maine securing $20 million in negotiated agreements with that communist state. At one point, the dictator put an arm around DuGay’s shoulder and said, “I think I am going to keep DuGay.”

Richardson immediately answered, “Your country will never be able to afford to feed him,” DuGay recalled on Tuesday.

“That’s how we did each other. We were always going back and forth and he said that to Castro,” DuGay said. “I told him after that, ‘I think you’re the top dog on getting me.’ ”

The heart attack came despite Richardson being a very active man. He was a hiker and mountain climber who would work exercise into his daily routines, DuGay said.

“This has really set me back today. This is the hardest one I ever had to deal with,” DuGay said. “I used to call him Speak. ‘Hey Speak.’ A lovely man. Great man, very proud of his family, his great children.”

Richardson ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010. He withdrew from the Democratic primary race in April of that year after he failed to qualify for public financing. The Maine attorney general’s office charged four individuals with knowingly submitting false documentation to the state’s campaign finance regulator. Richardson was not implicated in the criminal complaint. 

Richardson returned to politics when he was elected to the Brunswick council in 2013. In recent years, he served as a political commentator opposite former Republican state Sen. Phil Harriman on WCSH and WLBZ’s “NewsCenter Maine.”

“The people of Brunswick have lost a friend. I have lost a friend. The State of Maine has lost a friend,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a Tuesday statement.