When Friend William Richardson retired from public office in 1939, he declared: “I propose to spend my time in helping my friends and continuing my work as president of the California Press Association. I have no personal political aspirations, but I will continue to be active in public affairs.”
It is succinct testimony to three of the most important things in Richardson’s life: his friends, the press and public affairs. To all of these he gave a great deal of himself.
At the time of his death, he had served the State of California for 12 years, eight as treasurer and four as governor. He also was president of the California Press Association for 37 years.
He was born in 1865 in Ypsilanti, Mich. He died at the age of 78 in 1943.
It may be that it was as publisher and editor of the Berkeley Daily Gazette that he made the biggest imprint on the community.
Between 1901 and 1912, Richardson not only built The Gazette up to Berkeley’s foremost paper, but helped to shape the development of the town he loved with editorials that explicitly let the townspeople know what was best for them.
One of his biggest concerns was the presence of saloons in (West) Berkeley. The Gazette was vociferous in its condemnation of them. The paper joyously proclaimed their demise as the result of a town trustees meeting in 1906 in what were probably the largest headlines The Gazette ever used.
Richardson’s reputation as a journalist is founded on more than the zeal with which he attacked vices. His newspaper career began with the San Bernardino-Times Index in 1896, and he became the newspaper’s proprietor only a year later.
By the time he had been with the Berkeley Gazette for a year in 1902, which was then six years after his newspaper career began, he had become so prominent in journalistic circles that he was elected president of the California Press Association.
Richardson took as much pride in his city as in his paper. The man who was soon to enter the political arena showed his interest in civic affairs in his editorials insisting on the need for a new city hall and to ballot reform and chastising the water and phone companies for their service.
When Richardson sold The Gazette late in 1915, he had built it from a small-town paper to a substantially larger one that carried weight in the community.
Having been state printer since 1912, Richardson decided to run for state treasurer. Two terms later Richardson was elected 26th governor of California.
In California of the 1920s, political power contests were fought between the liberal and conservative factions of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party being too weak to present a challenge.
For the 12 years proceeding 1923, the liberals dominated the political scene under reform governors Hiram Johnson and William D. Stephens. When a split threatened the unity of their own party, Republicans of both sides joined behind Friend Richardson to keep the party together.
Said by one endorser to embody the “Roosevelt brand of Americanism” (Teddy, that was), Richardson had the backing of the then-Sen. Johnson, organized labor and nearly 300 newspapers, some of which held different political views than Richardson. One notable exception was the Hearst papers.
Running on the real and only issue in the campaign “law and order, efficiency and economy,” Richardson won the election by a majority of 150,000.
Richardson’s budget director stated the budget was to put the “business of California on a business-like basis,” and that was just what Richardson did.
Richardson naturally could not have equally satisfied everyone upon whom his influence fell. He had made an impact as a man of integrity who prided himself on his political independence, and as a man whose motto was “making good on the job.”
*Hall of Fame inductees are selected annually by a committee appointed by the California Press Foundation. They recognize career achievements of weekly and daily publishers in California who were important and influential in their era, as judged by their peers in the association. The write-ups are a historical and journalistic snapshot in time and not official biographies.*