Log in Newsletter


Bill Kirby Jr.: Richardson reflects on decision not to seek another term in state House

“At the end of the day, it was time for me to come home,” he says.


You would have thought Billy Richardson would have stood front and center on that January evening when the Greater Fayetteville Chamber brought the Cumberland County legislative delegation together in celebration of its work to bring more than $400 million to this and neighboring communities.

You would have thought.

After all, it was Richardson who headed the delegation of Reps. John Szoka, Marvin Lucas and Diane Wheatley and Sens. Ben Clark and Kirk deViere in bringing back more dollars than this community could ever have imagined.

“These five people were not going to try to keep their jobs, and instead do their jobs,” Richardson, 66, told those who gathered at the Yarborough-Bank Theater of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum. “They are your heroes, and I hope and pray they get to keep their jobs or jobs they are aspiring to because they deserve to be public servants.”

That is humility.

Richardson was the same way on Dec. 1 when he sat in a conference room of CityView TODAY along with Szoka, Wheatley and deViere to talk about how they came together to fight for that $400 million in the state budget.

“Being a part of this group,” Richardson would say at the end of the interview, “was an opportunity of a lifetime.”

That is humility. And that is Billy Richardson, who came by his humble ways as a boy growing up in the Van Story Hills home where his mother, Dorothy Odum Richardson, was a school social worker with compassion for young people struggling along life’s way.

“My mother started the school social worker program in Cumberland County,” he says. “She took in any child who spent weeks on end at my house. This taught me to hate poverty and to see people not from my neighborhood and who didn't necessarily look like me were real people and good people, who just like me, wanted to be loved and appreciated.

“My mother showed me how to respect and love people who needed love the most and often were hard to love. They left my house with my bats, balls and gloves.”

Ricardson can still see them. He can still feel their struggles.

“They gave me far more,” he says.

Reflections of life

Richardson is giving much thought these days to those who shaped his life.

A father, Charles Henry Richardson, taught him a love for hunting, fishing, conservation and respect for the generations to come. He is thinking of the late Don McCoy, the lawyer who was his “hero” and the lawyer Richardson aspired to one day be. Of Don Baer, the Fayetteville native who would serve under Bill Clinton in the White House, and a lawyer who “knew politics and how to get things done.”

Of boyhood friends like David Newman and Mark Miller, who “taught me to have curiosity in life and to study people, science and life in general.” Of the late Dorothy Gilmore and Julian Brown, leaders of his days as a member of the Fayetteville Youth Council, where Richardson learned “prejudice and false assumptions were just that,” nothing more and not acceptable. He is thinking of “remarkable teachers” who taught him Emerson and Thoreau “and how to care and improve life for others.” And about Sunday mornings at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, where Richardson says the Rev. Henry Johnson was “a living sermon on Christ” and where the pastor had such an influence on his faith.

He is thinking of his days at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was student body president from 1976 to 1977. He later graduated from the Norman A. Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University.

“I was exposed to excellence from Dean Boulton, who married Barb and me and was dean of students,” he says. “And Skipper Bowles and Chancellor Ferebee Taylor. I had dinner once a month with Bill Friday and tutored under Gov. Jim Hunt. I feel in many respects I was exposed to the best of the last generations and so many stars that in many respects I have let them down.”

He ponders.

“I should have,’’ he says, “could have done more.”

‘The hardest decision…’

Richardson has served 5 ½ terms in the N.C. House of Representatives, where his work includes lead sponsorship of then-Gov. Jim Hunt’s Smart Start initiative; an N.C. Veterans Nursing Home in this city; securing funding for the residency program at Cape Fear Valley Health; and let us not forget his leadership for that $400 million for this community.

He will not pursue another term.

“The decision to leave was the hardest decision because I treasured and never took for granted the second chance this community gave me to serve this state and this wonderful community,” Richardson was saying Friday.

He served from 1993 to 1997 in House District 18 and from 2015 in House District 44.

Most of us didn’t see it coming.

"Billy has become a good friend of mine these last two terms in the House,” John Szoka says. “He is a man of integrity who cares deeply about our community, as do I. He is a great legislator, and the legislature will not be the same without him."

He will be missed in Raleigh, Diane Wheatly says.

“It has been a great pleasure to work with Billy,” Wheatley says. “I will always appreciate how he graciously shared his wealth of knowledge to help me get up to speed quickly as a freshman member of the legislature. As delegation chairman, his willingness to help foster the bipartisan approach of our delegation was key in our ability to accomplish the things we did for Cumberland County.”

Richardson may be leaving state politics, Kirk deViere says, but Richardson will be long remembered and never forgotten.

“Billy is a rare statesman in a time that politics is hyper-partisan,” deViere says. “Billy’s policy work will impact people across our state for years. His unique type of politics will be missed in the General Assembly. He is a mentor and confidant. I will miss having my dear friend in Raleigh, but happy for him and his family at this stage in their life.”

Richardson had a legislative calm.

He just had a way about him.

“Billy Richardson has been a class act from Day 1 as a member of the N.C. House representing Cumberland County,” longtime political observer George Breece says. “His name is written in bold letters across some great legislation, including the State Veterans Home in Fayetteville, the DNA Data Bank, Smart Start – Partnership for Children, the Lake Rim Park, clean water, better pay for our teachers and legislation for prompt testing of all sexual assault kits across North Carolina.”

He was true to his county and state, Breece says, and true to himself.

“Billy always stood tall and never backed away from his core values and beliefs,” Breece says. “I have had the pleasure of knowing some mighty good legislators over the years, and Billy is right there at the top of the list. His absence will be felt within the Cumberland County legislative delegation and the state of North Carolina.”


Richardson has never considered the state House District 44 seat his seat alone.

“This seat is not my seat,” he would say Feb. 28 in announcing his decision. “This seat belongs to the people of this county.”

Friday was a day for final reflection.

“I have lost years off my life worrying if I did the right thing,“ Richardson was saying. “But families sacrifice so much for a spouse, father, mother, son, daughter and grandchildren to serve or support their service. You owe it to them to come home. This community is in my soul. It is part of myself and given me so much. I owe it a debt I cannot repay and I love the people here and its beauty beyond words. Hopefully, I will find more ways to repay an unpayable debt I owe this wonderful place and its wonderful people.’’

But …

“At the end of the day,” Richardson says, “I felt it was time for me to come home.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., Billy Richardson, state House