Rich Williamson (Associated Press, Seth Perlman)
CHICAGO (AP) - A former U.S. Senate candidate and diplomat described as one of the Illinois Republican Party's most influential minds has died of complications from a cerebral hemorrhage.
Richard Salisbury Williamson was 64. He died Sunday, according to a family friend, Alan Holmer, who was a Princeton classmate of Williamson's and former ambassador.
Williamson, a Chicago attorney and Kenilworth resident, was a longtime leader in the Illinois GOP, serving most recently as a member of the Republican National Committee for Illinois since 2010. Among his many political accomplishments, one of his best-known undertakings was a nationally watched Senate race against Carol Moseley Braun in 1992. The Chicago Democrat went on to be the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
An Evanston native and Princeton graduate, Williamson was inspired to enter politics after watching his father serve as a local Republican precinct captain. He was chairman of the state Republican Party from 1999-2001.
Stuart Piper, a former executive director of the state Republican Party and a research director for the Republican National Committee, called Williamson "a friend to many" who was respected by leaders at an early age.
"His leadership skills were sought out by some of the best Republican officials and leaders for his knowledge and ability to provide advice to help solve the problems of the day, not only at the state level but nationally and internationally," Piper said.
Williamson served as a senior policy adviser for the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney.
In a statement, McCain called Williamson "an extraordinary American who devoted his life to public service and advancing human rights around the world."
"I always admired Rich's intellect and judgment, and sought his counsel often," McCain said.
Williamson was appointed to diplomatic roles under three Republican presidents, including as George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan, where he worked to end genocide.
His biography on the Illinois GOP website described his "keen appreciation of American Exceptionalism and the responsibility that America has to serve as a 'shining city of the hill' for the entire world."
In July, he authored a report on genocide prevention with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "As we know from our experience in government service, once the body counts begin to mount, our options for responding immediately become far less palatable politically," they wrote.
Williamson is survived by his wife, Jane, and three children, as well as grandchildren. He was remembered as a devoted family man.
New Trier Township Republican Committeeman Bill Cadigan recalled watching Williamson and an infant grandchild connect over a video chat last summer. "It was a delight to watch the joy it gave him," Cadigan said.
Illinois Republican Party Chair Jack Dorgan called Williamson a "true friend and a great diplomat."
"He loved his family, loved his country, and loved this party," Dorgan said.
KERRY LESTER, Associated Press
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